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Utah will continue to rely on coal, natural gas and crude oil to meet its energy needs, and less on renewable resources, state officials said Tuesday during the annual Unconventional Fuels Conference at the University of Utah.
Officials discussed the state's 10-year energy initiative, which calls for the establishment of a centralized state energy office and a research triangle made up the U. of U., Utah State University and Brigham Young University to help develop energy technologies.
The plan, however, does not estimate the costs of implementing its recommendations.
The initiative categorizes Utah's oil shale and oil sands as unconventional fuels, along with uranium, hydroelectric, geothermal solar, wind and biomass. It was the development of oil shale and oil sands that was discussed at the conference. Organizers pointed to a 2005 Rand Corp. report indicating that the world's largest known oil shale deposits are in the Green River formation, which covers portions of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Douglas Smoot, a member of the Governor's Energy Task Force, said the initiative's goals are to meet projected energy demands over the next decade by "a balanced use of fossil fuels and alternatives, and renewable resources, in a market-driven, cost-effective and environmentally responsible way."
Smoot, who also is a consultant for Combustion Resources Inc., a Provo-based firm that analyzes fuels,said switching to unconventional sources such as wind power and solar power won't happen overnight. "People need to understand what a challenge it is to change from one type of energy to another."
He also called production of crude oil the weak link in the big three fossil fuel energy sources. Although Utah exports both coal and natural gas, the state imports 72 percent of its petroleum, primarily from Canada, Wyoming and Colorado.
Coal provides nearly 47 percent of the energy required to meet Utah's needs, while 40 percent comes from natural gas and 12 percent from crude oil. About 1 percent is met by hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and solar.
The energy task force has said that using renewable-energy resources in an electrical system can be random and unpredictable. For instance, solar production is impacted by cloud cover and wind-power systems can drop off the grid when the wind ceases to blow. Although Utah may possess considerable renewable-energy potential, substantial investments in transmission infrastructure and other challenges may not be as cost-effective "when compared to other resource options," according to the initiative.
U. President David Pershing said he supports energy development, "but we've got to think about the environment, as well. As we develop these resources we must be sensitive to environmental damage."
About 130 people attended the conference. Most were from private industry and the government. A show of hands indicated that three people represented conservation organizations. The conference was presented by the U.'s Institute for Clean and Secure Energy and the state Office of Energy Development.
Matt Pacenza, policy director of Heal Utah, which advocates against nuclear and toxic risks, said in a telephone interview that the conference shows the state is "embracing the dirty energy of the past instead of the clean energy of the future."
"Utah is ranked near the bottom in the nation in renewable-energy production," he said. "We're among the worst in the nation."