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Christopher Thomas: Utah falls far behind in renewables

Published January 9, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Gov. Gary Herbert issued his Ten Year Energy Plan in March 2011, he claimed that, "Utah is at the very forefront of the nation — and oftentimes the world — in developing alternative and renewable energy technologies."

That sounds great, but, unfortunately for Utahns worried about air quality, preserving our precious water and protecting our quality of life, it's not remotely true: The data shows that our leaders have shunned clean power, leaving our state lagging badly. Just 2.7 percent of the power produced in Utah this past year came from renewables, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That dismal figure puts us far behind our Western neighbors, many of whom share not just similar landscapes, but conservative politics. In Idaho, 14.2 percent of the power comes from renewables. In Wyoming, it's 9 percent. Nevada, 8.6 percent. Colorado, New Mexico, Montana — all are doing much better than Utah.

Why is Utah falling so far behind? The answer, we believe, is the lack of interest and even the antipathy Herbert and most of the Utah Legislature have shown clean energy sources. This attitude will be fully on display this Thursday and Friday, during Herbert's Energy Development Summit at the Salt Palace.

Herbert may occasionally mouth vague language about leading on renewables, but his choice of energy confidants betrays his real agenda. His "closest and most trusted political adviser," according to a 2010 Tribune article, is Bob Henrie, a Nevada advertising agency executive best known for his public relations work for Big Coal, including recently winning a multimillion-dollar contract to boost the industry's image.

Herbert's appointed energy adviser is Cody Stewart, formerly a lobbyist for elected officials and trade associations. His career "highlights" include being spokesman for Americans for American Energy, an industry-funded nonprofit that organized a "Stop The War On The Poor" protest that ludicrously blamed environmentalists for poverty since they were fighting for safeguards on oil and gas drilling.

When your closest advisers on energy issues have such backgrounds, it is no wonder that our state energy policy is laser-focused on ridiculous and dangerous boondoggles like oil shale, tar sands and nuclear power.

Thursday, I will join hundreds of Utahns outside of Herbert's Energy Summit, raising our voices as part of a "Clean Energy Now!" rally, urging Herbert and Utah leaders to embrace renewable energy. The next day, however, I will head inside the Summit and speak, as part of a panel on nuclear power.

It may seem odd that activists choose to protest state officials — while also engaging with them. However, the policies of the Herbert administration leave us little choice.

On one hand, Herbert and his staff have an open-door policy: They meet with groups like HEAL, listening as we explain why they must rein in EnergySolutions, say no to the absurd Green River reactors proposal, urge Rocky Mountain Power to phase out its aging and increasingly expensive coal power plants, and embrace our state's bountiful wind, solar and geothermal potential.

We appreciate that they listen. What we don't appreciate is that they promptly ignore our concerns when they actually make Utah's energy policy.

I will always engage with Herbert and his administration in the hope that we can have constructive dialogue, but words must be met with action. So please join me and hundreds of Utahns outside the Salt Palace at 12:30 p.m. Thursday as we unite our diverse voices and demand that our officials invest in clean energy. Now.

Christopher Thomas is executive director of HEAL Utah.