Renewable energy is climate change’s solution story, and I’m covering it for The Tribune

After three decades in Tribune management, I have a hot story to follow ... literally.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tim Fitzpatrick.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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It’s not too late. That’s the hope.

It’s actually two hopes. The first hope is that it’s not too late for an old Tribune hand like me to go back to reporting and writing the news. The second is that there is still time to keep the planet from overheating.

After 31 years as one of the big cheeses in The Tribune newsroom, I have left management to return to a reporting gig. I am going to cover renewable energy and Utah’s transition to a sustainable energy structure to power our homes, businesses and transportation.

It is a homecoming of sorts. I was the Tribune’s science writer in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I won awards for covering the biggest energy story in the world in 1989. Unfortunately, it was fake energy and cold fusion became Utah’s embarrassment.

Still, in the middle of the cold fusion saga, I wrote my first story on “the greenhouse effect.”

Climate change is the biggest challenge of the next 10, 20 and 50 years, and renewable energy is climate change’s solution story. With its coal-fired power plants and urban sprawl, Utah has an outsized carbon footprint. We are more culpable than most people in the world for the ice caps melting and the forests burning, though most Utahns don’t realize it.

But we’re also blessed with plenty of sun, wind, geothermal hotspots and the technological and financial resources to exploit them. We still have years of fossil fuels ahead, but Utah can go from lagging to leading the sustainable energy revolution if Utahns know what is possible. I take that as my challenge.

As a third-generation Tribune employee, I have more than a century of ink in my veins. My grandfather, J.F. Fitzpatrick, started working for then-Tribune owner Sen. Thomas Kearns in 1913 and became publisher in 1924. My father, Jim Fitzpatrick, was also a Tribune writer and editor. I started at the paper in 1976 when I was 19, and I have been a reporter, editor, managing editor and editorial page editor, among other roles.

For the last 20 years, I’ve been working to make The Tribune less about ink and more about electrons. I led the web side of the operation as we moved to all-day publishing in the early 2000s, and in 2018 I headed up the launch of digital subscriptions.

And for the last two years, I have been all in on helping reinvent The Tribune as a nonprofit news organization. After years of uncertainty, The Tribune has arrived at a point where it actually grows instead of shrinks.

So now is my time to go back to the true mission: informing Utahns on issues that matter.

Here’s one more sign that I’m not back in the ‘90s: My position is funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. I appreciate the support, but rest assured that Rocky Mountain Power has no role in deciding what stories to cover or how to cover them. I will go where the reporting takes me.

Solar farms. Wind corridors. Heat pumps. Nuclear plants. Grid modernization. Battery technology. Charging networks. What should Utah’s energy mix be? We’ll find out together.

Energy is a cornerstone of civilization, and climate change is our ultimate test. Only through worldwide cooperation to reduce atmospheric carbon emissions will humanity thrive. For Utahns, it’s about making informed choices so we can lead by example.

Better late than never.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tim Fitzpatrick.

Tim Fitzpatrick is The Salt Lake Tribune’s renewable energy reporter, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains all control over editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power.