Energy future
Utah ripe for renewables
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One argument raised against concentrating efforts on developing the renewable energy that Mother Nature delivers in the forms of wind and sunshine is that those deliveries are sporadic. What do power consumers do when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow?

Fortunately, Utah scientists say there are ways to deal with that, using existing technology. In a new study, the Institute of Energy and Environmental Research explains how using compressed air energy storage systems can even out the power produced by wind turbines and solar panels. Excess energy is stored underground and sent to users on overcast days or when air movement is insufficient to move the huge blades of a wind generator.

HEAL Utah, a group that advocates for the development of renewable power, sponsored the study. HEAL officials say the technology, along with better energy conservation and efficiency, can conceivably provide 75 to 100 percent of Utah's power by 2050. But for that to happen, state officials would have to embrace renewable energy sources in the same way they now champion fossil-fuel development.

Unfortunately, that's not apt to happen soon. Mining for coal and drilling for oil and gas are mainstays of Utah's economy, and it would take a major shift in attitude before renewables are accepted as the future of energy in America. Still, support for clean, renewable energy is building in other parts of the country and it is bound to spread, eventually, to Utah. The U.S. Department of Interior has released the draft of a plan to identify prime solar-energy-producing areas in the West, including three sites in Utah's Beaver and Iron counties.

They are among 24 areas throughout six Western and Southwestern states that the department says have the greatest solar-power potential and the fewest environmental challenges to development. The federal department will hold public hearings and take comments before issuing a final report. If the areas in Utah — nearly 18,000 acres in the Escalante Valley, Milford Flats South and the Wah Wah Valley — make it through the public comment period, the department will grease the skids toward solar development there by eliminating delays in the bureaucratic permitting processes.

Gov. Gary Herbert says he supports expanded development of renewable energy. But he also refuses to begin backing away from fossil-fuel development, saying it is the backbone of the state's economy. But clinging to the old ways of producing power instead of fully backing renewables is shortsighted.