Americans aren’t hesitant to stock up the pantry for a natural disaster. But how well are we preparing for the depletion of our planet’s natural resources?
World supplies of traditional resources like natural gas and coal are expected to be exhausted in 50-100 years. What are we doing to prepare for energy shortages and price hikes? Many states have legislated standards for renewable energy development, but Utah hasn’t. To ensure our economic sustainability, we need a binding standard for renewable development.
In Utah we get most of our electricity by burning coal. We produce plenty of energy, but fossil fuels won’t last, and they cost more than we think. Despite Utah’s high renewable potential, only 8 percent of energy produced in Utah in 2016 was from renewable sources.
So, what do renewable energy laws look like? To date, 29 states have implemented renewable portfolio standards. They usually specify a year by which a certain threshold of renewable energy must be met in the state’s energy portfolio. They also provide specific plans and deadlines to achieve those goals. States freely choose standards that are realistic for their unique settings.
Right now, Utah does have a voluntary goal to reach 20 percent renewable by 2025. It’s a great vision, but it has no consequences. The year 2025 is coming up fast and doubling our renewable energy at the current rate is unlikely. Many of our neighboring states have mandated a higher percent of renewable energy by the same date or even sooner. To be prepared, we too need a policy on renewable energy — one that has teeth.
The initial expenses of renewable implementation are steep, but they will be far outweighed if we keep burning fossil fuels, which produce CO2. According to Nobel Prize-winning Yale economist William Nordhaus, the total cost of our current CO2 emission trajectory by 2050 will be $4.1 trillion more than the cost of immediate implementation of policies limiting fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.
The economic benefits of immediate renewable energy development are staggering. In 50 years, Utah could be trying to pay off its share of the $4 trillion price tag — which would be difficult to do while generating revenue using expensive and nearly-depleted fossil fuels — or it could be comfortably reliant on its renewable energy sources.
But won’t this shift just happen on its own? Probably not. Fifty percent of growth in renewables in the past 18 years is attributable to RPS laws. In other words, the free market is only responsible for half our development. Public demand alone won’t drive renewable development fast enough to spare us from the trillion-dollar damage.
Utah’s population is growing rapidly. If we want to stay competitive and independent, we need our own renewable portfolio standard. I would hate to see this state drenched in debt and stripped of its natural resources. We need to contact our representatives or even just engage our neighbors in a conversation about the consequences if we don’t transition to renewable energy as soon as we can.
We need a detailed plan, not just a goal. If we implement an RPS now, we can capitalize on our underused renewable potential and avoid much of the coming crisis.
Rosa Nielsen, Provo, is a senior studying sociology at Brigham Young University.