Utah's energy future depends on innovation at the state's universities and a regulatory system that encourages a broad mix of conventional fuels and renewable power on public lands, Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday as he released a 10-year energy plan.
Keeping electricity, natural gas and other energy sources affordable is a key to attracting business to the state, Herbert said in an unveiling ceremony at the University of Utah. His plan, drafted over the past year with help from a task force of industry representatives, state officials and scholars, pursues a mix of coal, oil, gas and renewables, and possibly nuclear power. It also calls for investment in an energy "research triangle" among the state's top universities to develop and commercialize clean energy ideas.
"Innovation plus initiative equals energy independence," the governor said.
The state will encourage renewable energy projects such as the west desert wind and solar projects now under construction or review, said Utah Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Amanda Smith, who also serves as the governor's energy adviser. But Utah also will need more conventional fuels such as the natural gas produced in the Uinta Basin, she said in an interview before the plan's release.
"We need to focus on a strategy that produces all of them," Smith said.
A coalition of groups including the League of Women Voters, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL), Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Clean Air Alliance, the Sierra Club and Utah Moms for Clean Air issued a statement saying the plan's conservation goals are vague, its reliance on coal doesn't factor health consequences into the costs and its openness to nuclear energy is misguided.
"Unfortunately," they wrote, "the energy plan sets low expectations in a high-expectation industry. Utah should and can do better."
While noting that the world needs to learn from the nuclear disaster that is unfolding in Japan, the governor declined to reject nuclear power for Utah. The state is evaluating a water-rights application for a nuclear plant proposed for Green River, and Herbert said many nuclear plants worldwide have long proved safe.
"I think it's important to continue with the debate," he said.
The state's energy needs are increasing rapidly, the plan notes. By 2020, Utah's thirst for oil will grow 16 percent, from 45 million barrels to 52 million. Its natural gas consumption will rise 18 percent, from 170 million decatherms to 200 million. Its electrical base load will grow 19 percent, from 4,700 megawatts to 5,600 megawatts.
The plan, developed late last year by an appointed task force of industry representatives and state officials, calls for strategic tax incentives without favoring one energy source over another.
"It really is, 'Let's let the market decide how and when these resources are going to develop,' " Smith said.
The plan recommends creating an office of energy to spearhead initiatives something the Legislature approved earlier this month. It calls for a unified public lands policy backing more development of gas, solar and other resources on public lands, and investing to develop new technologies.
It seeks greater efficiency statewide, and state involvement in planning transportation and urban planning changes ranging from more alternative fueling stations to alternative modes including mass transit, biking and walking.
Clean-energy and clean-air advocates gave the plan mixed reviews. Some liked its priorities and an apparent admission that air pollution is part of the equation. Others said it lacks the punch to actually move Utah's coal-dependent economy to a clean future as quickly as other states that have mandatory minimums for renewable energy production.
"We're not sure we see in here a sort of firm, strong commitment for the future," said Matt Pacenza, spokesman for HEAL, a nuclear watchdog group. The state has abundant solar, wind and geothermal resources, he said, but no clear path to full development. "Utah is falling behind. It'll continue to fall behind."
HEAL Utah delivered a letter to the governor on Friday asking him to renounce nuclear energy as the rest of the world reassesses its safety.
Terry Marasco, of the Utah Clean Air Alliance, said he is encouraged by the plan's nod to air quality something he said state officials often avoid mentioning in the energy debate.
"We're happy to see them talking about air quality outside of closed doors," he said.
Turning the plan's goals into reality will take work, though, and Marasco said he hopes the governor will involve activists. The planning task force did not include environmentalists or health advocates.
Task force members representing Rocky Mountain Power said their goal is a slow transition to renewables to keep price increases manageable.
But Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy, said wind power can be just as affordable as new natural gas turbines, and without the fluctuating fuel cost.
And Kevin Emerson, who heads the nonprofit group's efficiency initiative, noted that the utility is seeking a 13 percent rate hike right now.
Conservation is the most affordable path, Emerson said, costing 21/2 cents per kilowatt hour saved vs. new generation costs that are triple that or higher depending on the energy source.
View the plan
O Read the entire document. > http://www.utah.gov/governor/docs/energy-10year-plan.pdf
Utah energy at a glance
Coal currently accounts for 41 percent of Utah's energy use, and 82 percent of its electrical generation. Meanwhile, though, the state's proven coal reserves declined by half in the past decade, to just over 200 million tons. Crude oil, much of it imported from other states and Canada to Salt Lake-area refineries, provides about a third of Utah's energy needs, while natural gas provides about a quarter. Utah is the nation's eighth-largest producer of natural gas. Utah currently is a net exporter of energy, and 47 percent of its production, measured in British thermal units, comes from coal, 40 percent from natural gas, 12 percent from oil, and the remaining sliver from renewables.
Source: Utah's 10-year strategic energy plan