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Environmentalists at an energy policy forum Tuesday asked Gov. Gary Herbert to lean heavily on renewables and electric vehicles in a 10-year energy plan he is crafting with a state task force, while an education official asked for support in developing all fuels on state lands that support schools.
Herbert sat in on an "energy initiatives" hearing with his task force at the office building on the Capitol grounds, the third of four such public hearings around the state. The first were in Price and Cedar City, and a fourth is in Vernal's Western Park at 3 p.m. on Sept. 23. The governor wants to finish a plan for securing the state's energy future by December.
"There's many arrows in the quiver of energy and we ought to explore them all," Herbert said to open the hearing.
He said the plan will emphasize new, cleaner technologies, but that it likely also will reflect the economic importance of coal in the state, and especially in rural counties.
"All of us need to understand that jobs are a big deal," Herbert said.
Several in the audience of more than 100, though, said that the threats of pollution and climate change are bigger priorities, and their statements got the most applause.
Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student and climate activist who disrupted a federal oil and gas drilling lease auction by submitting bogus bids, said the plan must reflect the wisdom of the National Academy of Sciences and others: that fossil fuels are endangering our future.
"A continued focus on development of fossil fuels is a declaration of war on the living," DeChristopher said.
Michael Mielke, an electric vehicle booster, said the same, but questioned the governor's commitment to a new direction because of campaign contributions from energy producers.
"Utah is over-committed to coal," he said. "We're leading the field in cooking our land."
Wes Sorenson of Canyon Fuel, a company that he said produces 60 percent of Utah's coal, noted that 82 percent of Utah's electricity came from coal in 2008 the key reason, he said, for Utah's relatively low electric rates.
Margaret Bird of the Utah State Board of Education asked the governor and task force for "active promotion" of all sorts of energy production on state school trust lands. The schools currently enjoy dividends from a $1 billion trust fund, she said, and nearly all of it is from mineral development.
Several speakers opposed development of a Utah nuclear energy industry some for safety reasons, others because nuclear energy costs more than coal but one supported nuclear as a way to establish a reliable base of power production for when solar or wind production fluctuates.
In Herbert's outline for a 10-year energy plan, announced June 8, he said Utah universities should work together to ensure that the state is a leader in developing alternative energy sources while becoming a manufacturing center for clean-energy equipment. Still, he emphasized a continued reliance on coal, oil and gas.
He likewise included oil shale a so-far commercially nonviable energy source reviled by environmentalists for its potential to strip eastern Utah lands and waters among alternative fuels Utah should pursue. Oil shale advocates argue that new technologies will make it less destructive and more affordable, and one company even claims to have a process that doesn't use water.
Have your say
The public comment period for a 10-year energy plan ends Oct. 15. To submit ideas:
E-mail • firstname.lastname@example.org
Call • 801-538-1621
Write • Ted Wilson, Energy Plan Director, c/o Ashlee Buchholze, Office of the Governor, Utah State Capitol, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84114-2220