- Salt Lake City, Utah, is facing climate-related challenges like droughts and worsening air quality.
- The Utah Climate Action Network is bringing people together to seek solutions to these problems.
- Efforts within the network include tracking water consumption and expanding electric vehicle usage.
- This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”
Utah is experiencing a number of climate-related challenges, including the shrinking and drying up of the Great Salt Lake, diminishing water supplies, extreme temperatures, and worsening air quality due to wildfires. This has inspired city officials and other stakeholders to come together to seek solutions.
“Necessity spurs innovation, and I think we’re definitely at that point,” Josh Craft, government and corporate relations manager at
Utah Clean Energy, a Salt Lake City nonprofit working to accelerate clean energy and climate solutions in the state, told Insider.
To inspire climate-centric innovation, the organization helps facilitate the Utah Climate Action Network. The partnership was founded in 2016 between Salt Lake City, the University of Utah, the business community, faith organizations, and other groups, to foster a collaborative response to climate change. “We assist those partners in bringing together doers and experts from across disciplines to work on questions around climate and how it impacts our communities,” Craft said.
The network ensures that no one is “reinventing the wheel,” Craft said. “We’re learning and able to copy each other’s best practices.” Partners, including local governments, nonprofits, and higher education institutions, are working on innovations and technology, like tracking water consumption and sharing the data on usage to drive conservation efforts.
Here’s a look at how the network is fostering partnerships to address climate change in Utah.
Salt Lake City works with the network to educate climate leaders
Salt Lake City’s Climate Positive 2040 plan outlines long-term climate and energy goals, including achieving 100% renewable energy for community electricity supply by 2032 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040.
To make progress toward these goals, the city approved a large-scale renewable project to meet its electricity needs in 2020. It also broke ground on the Elektron Solar Project, a new 80-megawatt solar farm that’s the city’s largest renewable energy project to date.
Last year, Salt Lake City adopted the Electrified Transportation Resolution to expand electric vehicle use among the city’s fleet, develop charging infrastructure, and work with community partners to electrify public transit and rideshare vehicles. An update to city regulations requiring charging infrastructure on new multifamily building developments was also proposed but hasn’t yet been adopted.
To spread the word about sustainability plans, Salt Lake City also partnered with Path to Positive Utah, Utah Clean Energy, and the Utah Climate Action Network on a training program to educate and empower climate leaders across sectors in the city.
The network helps city leaders and climate experts “incubate and share knowledge quickly,” Craft said. “We’re facing some pretty significant climate changes. We’ll have to develop techniques and deploy technology to do things better than we have in the past.”
Collaboration and partnerships bring innovation to climate change
To address climate issues in Utah and help municipalities like Salt Lake City achieve sustainability goals, Craft said collaboration between state and local governments, the private sector, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, and higher education is a must.
The Utah Climate Action Network hosts quarterly meetings for groups working on climate issues — like renewable energy and electric vehicles — to discuss ideas and projects and find new ways to collaborate.
“Having somewhere you can go to ask for ideas, get expertise, and get responses has been helpful to keep innovative ideas alive,” Craft said.
Another project hosted by the network is the annual Utah Climate Week, a series of events around the state that bring together dozens of communities across Utah that have adopted climate commitments, researchers, nonprofits, and faith-based groups. This year’s event will be held from September 25 to October 1.
Since the network’s founding, Craft said he’s seen local climate-related expertise grow and more groups are willing to discuss sustainability issues.
“It’s a multidisciplinary effort that requires all hands on deck,” he said. “Knowing that there’s a safe space to talk about climate concerns in a nonpolitical environment is really important, and it’s helped build awareness and trust around these issues.”
Helping communities use Inflation Reduction Act funds to expand climate projects
Utah Clean Energy also helped facilitate the Climate and Clean Air Compact, a directive created in 2020 and signed by nearly 200 of the state’s most prominent leaders expressing their commitment to climate and clean air actions.
“We’re trying to connect with business community leaders to have good faith, positive discussions around climate change, environmental stewardship, and solutions,” Craft said. “The mission is to ensure Utah becomes one of the leading states, at least among conservative states, on climate solutions.”
The organization also worked closely with Salt Lake City on implementing the Utah Community Renewable Energy Act, a 2019 bill that created a path for the communities served by the electric utility company Rocky Mountain Power to collaborate on a renewable energy program. As of May 2022, 18 communities and counties joined together to launch a net-100% renewable energy option in their communities, which comprises around 25% of Rocky Mountain Power’s sales in Utah.
The new Inflation Reduction Act will provide billions of dollars in tax credits, rebates, grants, and loans for projects that will reduce emissions. The Utah Climate Action Network will be a “guiding resource” on the new national investments to ensure local governments, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations take advantage of the funding available to implement clean energy projects, Craft said.
“This is what you have a network for — to build capacity,” he said. “We see ourselves as folks who can understand these laws and opportunities, identify them, and find partners with good ideas to go and do.”