Nate Blouin: Fighting climate change in Utah will take political courage

Utah’s plans for its energy future lack vision

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Great Salt Lake, near Saltair on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

You can’t miss the impacts of climate change all around us. The challenges we face demand urgency, but I’m an optimist and I hold out hope that we can meet the calling of our time if we take action now.

We’re facing warmer temperatures in the midst of historic drought. The specter of toxic dust from the Great Salt Lake looms over the Wasatch Front, and smoke is certain to blot out the sun again. While experts warned that these changes are imminent, policymakers missed the memo.

Before I decided to run for the Utah Senate, I worked for a group of clean energy companies and environmental organizations promoting renewable energy across the region. One thing I learned is that energy providers are incredible planners, but states, like Utah, think they know better.

PacifiCorp’s integrated resource plan, constructed over two years, provides detailed accounting of reliability over coming decades — and they’re confident that a system drawing heavily from wind and solar meets our needs. Conversely, Utah’s new energy plan lacks vision and will lead to what’s best for California, not Utah.

Countless studies show we can have cleaner energy, cleaner air, adequate water and affordability if we plan ahead and stop settling with aging infrastructure that supports the industries that put us in this position. Furthermore, we need a plan that strengthens communities that have powered us for decades. Without foresight, they’ll be left behind in the energy transition.

Other states provide a roadmap, and we have proposals on the table like Prosperity 2030 to address many aspects of the climate crisis. Utah recently had great success with Free Fare February. We don’t need exorbitant solutions like a 700-mile pipeline to solve these challenges. Let’s be stewards of our resources (and not waste energy like methane leakage in the Uintah Basin) and use what we know now to make an impact.

There are three interconnected environmental issues on which I will focus much of my attention in office: air, water and energy.

Air quality is our most visible problem. It takes years off our lives and makes life unbearable as we grapple with the impacts of inversion, dust and smoke. There are critical needs to address, including vehicle emissions, building efficiency and large polluters. These are front and center to Prosperity 2030, which I support. The recent EPA decision tightening air quality standards is a call to action and mandates that Utah take additional action to clean up our air.

Water is an area on which we’ve reached a tipping point, and bipartisan action made an impact during the 2022 legislative session. Progress aside, the Great Salt Lake remains historically low. The impacts of metering and pricing won’t be felt for years. We need to expedite progress while considering ways to incentivize those with rights to conserve instead of using every drop. Let’s rethink what is appropriate in such an arid state.

We take energy for granted because we have low-cost, reliable service. But a recent report shows most of the country could struggle to meet demand. Reduced flows through hydroelectric dams, transmission issues and resource retirements are to blame and, while we remain insulated here in Utah, the struggles we see elsewhere foreshadow what we face if we don’t learn from neighbors.

Utah’s coal plants will retire sooner than legislators admit. Now is the time to join with Nevada and Colorado to create a market for renewables, diversifying our energy and incentivizing utilities to build transmission that will make our grid more resilient. Bipartisan action has already laid the groundwork for the energy transition in Utah and now we need a jump-start.

We have the technology and expertise we need to clean up Utah’s air, conserve our water and address climate change. Leaders don’t understand the scope of the challenge, or the economic opportunities in leading out. It’s time to look at those who are trying to move us in the right direction as partners, not adversaries.

We can keep doing business as usual, reacting to a market that will leave us behind rather than one we helped shape. Or we can elect leaders now who understand that four more years is too long to wait for action on so many critical issues.

Nate Blouin

Nate Blouin is a Democratic candidate for Utah Senate District 13. He has worked in the renewable energy industry and serves on a variety of boards that promote conservation and education, including the Salt Lake County Open Space Trust Fund Committee, Friends of Alta and the Salt Lake Community College Alumni Leadership Council.