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Utah's future economy depends on responsible energy development including renewables that currently can't compete with coal, Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday in opening the 2011 Utah Renewable Energy Conference.

The governor said he recently met with publisher Steve Forbes, whose magazine had named Utah a top place for careers. Forbes told him Utah's longstanding status as a cheap-energy state was key. But with that status dependent on coal, and the public clamoring for cleaner energy, he said it's also important for Utah's universities and companies to keep seeking ways to make renewables cost-effective.

"The public is demanding now in the marketplace cleaner and yet affordable fuels," Herbert said.

As a first and easier step, though, he urged Utahns to conserve energy.

"We do need to have a mentality that says, 'Let's turn off the lights when we leave the room. Let's trip chain. We probably don't need to go to the grocery store every day."

Part of the 10-year state energy plan his administration released this spring calls for a research initiative among state universities and technology programs. He said he thinks Utahns can solve problems related to renewable-energy storage.

"The best resource we have here in Utah is the human resource," he said.

Herbert spoke to about 200 people at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center, where about 400 had registered for the second annual conference co-hosted by the Utah Solar Energy Association and the Utah Technology Council. Throughout the day, organizers scheduled sessions about renewable-energy projects in the state, clean transportation initiatives and financing and permitting new projects.

Utah, as a commercial hub for the Intermountain West with abundant solar, wind and geothermal prospects, is well-positioned to be a leader, said Wendolyn Holland, an efficiency and renewable-energy commercialization adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy. By maximizing new energy technologies, she told the crowd, Utah can help lead the U.S. out of its economic slump.

"Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the key to our economic growth," she said.