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Governor launches energy plan to make coal-rich Utah a powerhouse of innovation

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a plan to convert a state that depends on coal for nearly 75% of its electricity into a powerhouse of innovation in cleaner fuels, renewable generation, energy efficiency and alternative transportation.

At the 7th Annual Utah Governor's Energy Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 14-15, Herbert unveiled Utah's Energy Action Plan Through 2020 as a road map for the state's energy future based on what the governor said will be responsible energy development.

No, the governor is not giving up on coal. He said technology is helping traditional carbon-based fuels become cleaner. "I believe technology and free markets will help us to clean up our air while producing abundant reliable energy," Herbert told the summit crowd.

Herbert said Utah will use its position as a state rich in energy and minerals to sustain economic growth while also meeting environmental goals. The governor hosted the convention with a stated target of 1,400 attendees to hear more than 75 national and international industry experts, such as former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters, offer their views on innovative trends in energy production, research, advanced power systems, smart cities and other issues.

The governor said Utah is expected to double its population by 2050 and that preserving the state's high quality of life is linked to abundant, low-cost energy production and use. Taking a gentle jab at Hickenlooper, who has led his state to join the U.S. Climate Alliance to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Herbert said some of Utah's success will come from increasing market access to carbon-based resources. Utah is a leading producer of fossil fuels.

However, Herbert also applauded Moniz for his emphasis on energy research, especially geothermal development in Utah. The governor said some of Utah's success will come from the expansion of renewable energy generation, the creation of energy storage systems, and building electric vehicle infrastructure.

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Utah Governor Gary Herbert
Source: Associated Press

Herbert's plan calls for 'all the above'

The energy action plan reflects the governor's continuing emphasis on an "all of the above" approach and his efforts for Utah to have a leading role in future energy evolution rather than being left behind in a carbon-free energy future.

"As we look toward the future, we must thoughtfully consider how to most effectively leverage Utah's resources to sustain economic growth while also meeting our environmental goals," Herbert said in a letter accompanying the plan.

Utah plans to expand its participation in broader electricity markets, including a regional day-ahead electricity market, and is in discussions with the California ISO, Mountain West Transmission Group and other potential partners.

"Access to broader electricity markets offers Utah the potential for lower customer costs and expanded markets for generation, but must be implemented in a way that protects Utah's economy and employment," the governor's plan said.

The plan also calls for providing more market access to the state's energy and minerals resources by expanding natural gas infrastructure, building a new oil pipeline, and giving coal more access to ports. It also includes commercial-scale deployment of three advanced coal projects.

Other goals include developing batteries and other large-scale energy storage; converting trucks, vans and buses to the use of compressed natural gas and electricity; and continuing efforts to boost the energy efficiency in buildings. Utah has improved its American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy rating from the 26th ranked state in 2015 to the 17th most efficient state today.

"Through the deployment of advanced energy systems, new transportation alternatives, cleaner fuels, building efficiencies and education, Utah can continue to drive improvement in our airshed," the plan concluded.