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Dan Liljenquist: Utah's Energy Revolution

Published: Thursday, June 12 2014 6:22 a.m. MDT

When the history of the great recession is finally written, I suspect that America’s domestic energy revolution will be credited for pulling us out of it. As a country, primarily through the application of new extraction techniques and technologies that are unlocking heretofore inaccessible oceans of oil and natural gas, the United States of America is transforming itself into the dominant energy producer in the world. Within the next few years, America will not only become energy independent, but could also become the world’s largest energy exporter. Once again, American ingenuity has found a way to move our economy forward.

I am pleased to report that Utah has caught the wave of the new energy economy. This did not happen by accident. When Gov. Gary Herbert took the oath of office five years ago, Utah, like the rest of the country, was suffering with high unemployment, collapsing tax revenues and uncertainty about the future. Herbert jumped right in, rolled up his sleeves and went to work, focusing the efforts of his new administration on creating jobs. Energy development was a key pillar of Herbert’s plan for Utah.

In 2011, working with the legislature, Herbert established the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, an organization “dedicated to advancing all forms of responsible energy development in the state.” Energy production in Utah now drives over $5 Billion in economic activity, generating more than $600 Million in state and local tax revenues. Utah’s energy sector accounts for more that 18,000 jobs and $1.5 Billion in wages each year, with energy sector jobs paying nearly double the state’s median income. Even with the federal government controlling the vast majority of our land, Utah is 10th in the nation in natural gas production, 11th in crude oil production and 14th in coal production.

In addition to oil, gas and coal, Utah is also developing renewable energy resources. Massive solar energy projects at Basic Research, Burton Lumber and the Salt Palace Convention Center have been completed. First Wind’s 306-megawatt wind farm helps power thousands of homes in Millard and Beaver counties. State-of-the-art geothermal plants like the new 25-megawatt Enel facility near Cove Fort are capitalizing on “thermal anomalies”, generating electricity from super-heated brine originating in rock far below the earth’s surface. These alternative energy resources will continue to grow as Utah seeks to develop a diversified energy portfolio.

Last week, over 1,200 leaders representing more that 385 different organizations from 20 states and 4 countries gathered in the Salt Palace Convention Center for the 3rd annual Governor’s Energy Development Summit. During the course of the summit, the Governor unveiled his programs and priorities for 2015. This coming year, energy development efforts will be focused on (1) continued support for responsible conventional energy production, (2) exploring advanced energy systems, including shale and tar sands resource development and natural gas to ethanol conversion technologies, (3) fostering greater energy efficiency and conservation, (4) developing new sources of renewable energy, including mapping the geothermal potential of the Black Rock Desert, and (5) promoting energy efficient alternative transportation. These initiatives reflect an innovative, mature, balanced, and realistic approach to energy production and usage. It is no surprise to me that other states and countries are looking to Utah for guidance on energy development strategies.

We should all be grateful for the nationwide resurgence of domestic energy production. In a world full of economic uncertainty and strife, it is nice to know that we have the ability to be energy independent. By embracing this energy revolution, we are pulling ourselves, and our entire economy, up by our own bootstraps.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.

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