Utah lawmakers debate impact of alternative energy incentives
Legislature • Mixed perspectives are offered on "green"job creation.
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If they didn't know it already, legislators learned Sept. 21 that any idea of providing state tax incentives to stimulate development of alternative energy resources might be contentious.

Good can come from it, contended a couple of officials from Renewable Energy Development Corp. (Redco), citing benefits Beaver County has derived from being home to First Wind's 204-megawatt wind farm outside of Milford.

But the president of Deseret Power, which fully owns a coal-fired power plant in the Uinta Basin and has a share in the larger Hunter plant in Emery County, warned that any incentives should not come at the expense of energy resources, such as coal, that supply three quarters of Utah's electrical needs.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, chairman of the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee, is considering sponsoring legislation that would offer tax incentives to promote development of new energy sources.

The committee considered the subject in July and again on Wednesday, when Deseret Power President and CEO Kimball Rasmussen said his company examined what would occur if it developed enough new wind energy to replace the power generated by those two plants.

The new arrangement killed jobs, he contended, creating 59 permanent "green jobs" at the expense of 100 existing power plant positions and an additional 160 mining jobs. Operating, maintenance and debt service costs also would increase, he added.

Rasmussen pointed to a report he wrote, "A Rational Look at Green Jobs," in which he said "there is nothing wrong with investing in wind, solar, geothermal and other so-called alternative energies. … What is objectionable are deceptive and misleading gimmicks, including promising a 'green jobs bonanza' which effectively ignores the net loss in jobs that will occur if we move too precipitously toward more expensive and less stable technologies."

In response, Redco director of property development Rob Adams said there is no intent for alternative energies to undermine a reliable source such as coal. But the state can ensure a "mosaic" of sources to fit its needs by increasing support for his industry segment, encouraging more research into ways to cut costs and make renewable energy more economical.

"It makes sense to argue for a portfolio approach. [The state] needs to be involved with all of it," said Adams, who once was Beaver County's economic development director.

While Beaver's wind farm only has 25 permanent jobs after providing work for 200 during the facility's construction, he said those numbers are fine with most county residents. Rural people don't want to attract businesses that bring in 1,000 employees and change the whole character of the area.

Two dozen jobs that pay more than the median wage are actually quite desirable in the community, whose property valuation went up because of the wind farm's presence, Adams said. That increase has made it possible for the Beaver School District to secure better financing to replace outdated schools. Local governments also can better afford to fund improvements, he noted.

Not every area of the state is blessed with coal supplies that can support high-paying mining jobs, Adams added.

"People have to sell what they have. The people in Beaver County have been cursing the wind for generations and now they've found a way to sell it," he said. "I believe in incentives because they can jump-start things."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg