Utahns urged to plug into renewable-energy options
Dec 09, 2008
By Jasen Lee
Utah energy advocates urged a standing-room crowd of about 300 people to become more engaged in the effort to move toward greener power and a more secure energy future for the state.
The Healthy Energy Alliance of Utah hosted the free panel discussion Monday evening on renewable energy development in the lobby of Abravanel Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. The four-person panel espoused the virtues of making a collective, concerted effort to more fully develop Utah's wind, solar and geothermal resources.
HEAL Utah executive director Vanessa Pierce moderated the discussion on the current realities, opportunities and challenges facing renewable development in the Beehive State. She said her organization has launched a comprehensive survey, called the eUtah Study — A Renewable Energy Roadmap for Utah's Energy Future, to assess the economic and technical feasibility of generating all of Utah's electricity through renewable energy sources.
"Not necessarily energy sources in the state, but we're also looking at potentially importing wind (generated power) from Wyoming and hydro that already exists in Portland," she said. "We're looking at the resources within Rocky Mountain Power and its parent company's electrical grid."
She said the study will attempt to answer the question, "Can we generate 100 percent of the electricity that Utah consumes from renewables by mid-century without breaking the bank?"
She added that the goal of the survey is to determine what the state can do to generate power efficiently and effectively utilizing non-carbon emitting sources. The study is expected to be completed by December 2009, she said.
"We plan to have a report that both addresses what the technical and economic potential is and also make recommendations for regulators, legislators and other policymakers to help get us on that path," Pierce said.
The HEAL Utah analysis is being directed by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Washington D.C., which last year published a study showing how a 100 percent renewable energy system can be established in the United States by the middle part of the century, she said.
Panelist and Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen said that the biggest impediment to clean energy development has continued to be cost.
"The technology for wind power doesn't really have much application on very small type systems," he said. "For solar, which is ideal for small systems, the expense of installing it against the relative payback is relatively long term."
He said that Utah's comparatively cheap energy costs make if difficult to make more green development economically feasible, but he is hopeful that might change as the technologies improve and economies of scale can be utilized to reduce the energy cost to consumers.
Spanish Fork Mayor Joe Thomas, who also sat on the panel, said that civic leaders need to increase the emphasis on developing better and more efficient energy technologies.
"If cities can get behind new innovation and promote the stuff, then we have opportunities to support entrepreneurs who can make it happen," he said.
Pierce said that while her group fully supports non-carbon, clean electricity generation, HEAL Utah does not advocate the development of nuclear power due to the potentially harmful environmental impacts and the high cost of development.
"Given Utah's unique and painful relationship with the nuclear industry where taxpayers have shelled out billions of dollars to clean up sites and where we have the nation's largest nuclear waste dump, we really don't think that nuclear is a viable option," she said.
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