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In our opinion: Weighing costs against benefits, in Utah and around the nation, necessary for sound energy development

Published: Thursday, June 5 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

That’s why it’s vital to better develop solar, wind and geothermal alternatives, such as PacifiCorp.’s 38-megawatt facility in Beaver County or Enel’s 25-megawatt facility at Cove Fort.  (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) That’s why it’s vital to better develop solar, wind and geothermal alternatives, such as PacifiCorp.’s 38-megawatt facility in Beaver County or Enel’s 25-megawatt facility at Cove Fort. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Utah is in the enviable position of enjoying a great diversity of energy resources, each of which can be used to meet needs within the state, and to provide for needs outside of the state. Utah currently ranks 10th in the nation in natural gas production, 11th in the production of crude oil, 14th in coal production, and first in the nation in the use of recoverable oil shale and sand resources.

Gov. Gary Herbert highlighted these statistics in his speech at the 2014 Energy Development Summit on Wednesday. Bringing together business and government leaders in an effort to facilitate new approaches to energy development, the summit came at a time of renewed interest — and controversy — in energy policy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday required a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. That puts the future of many coal-producing states in jeopardy.

Utah may indeed feel some of that pain. If the EPA’s rule becomes finalized, Utah would be slated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 27 percent by 2030. And that’s likely to increase Utah’s historically low energy costs, which is among the nation’s lowest at 9.08 cents per kilowatt-hour.

But energy policy — like air quality in the Wasatch Basin — must be about both costs and benefits. It simply makes sense for the energy industry in Utah, and in the nation as a whole, to put more effort and initiative to cultivating cleaner sources of energy.

Utah can play a leadership role in moving the state and nation toward a diversified portfolio of energy assets. Indeed, the abundance of natural resources in the Beehive State give us a responsibility to exercise our stewardship wisely. In doing so, we need to strike a balance between environmental responsibility and abundant energy production.

That’s why it’s vital to better develop solar, wind and geothermal alternatives, such as PacifiCorp.’s 38-megawatt facility in Beaver County or Enel’s 25-megawatt facility at Cove Fort. It will take considerable time for these renewable sources to reach maturity. Utah’s abundant reserves of shale oil and coal can continue to provide an environmentally acceptable burning of fossil fuels that will remain necessary. The public lands debate needs to be considered as well, given opportunities for the federal government and the state to swap lands better rationalizing acreage best suited for wilderness conservation with plots for mineral extraction.

Advances in technology are allowing the industry to extract fuels in cleaner, safer, and less expensive ways than were possible even a decade ago. At the end of the last century, few could have predicted the fracking boom in North Dakota and elsewhere in North America. It has fundamentally transformed natural gas production.

Similarly, shale oil was long considered to be too difficult and too costly to be competitive with traditional oil production. That’s changed, too: it is no longer necessary to use vast amounts of water to extract shale oil, a welcome boon to water-strapped Utah.

Developers need to determine what is technologically and economically feasible. Policymakers in Utah and Washington should work collaboratively with them, and not demonize an energy industry that provides for society’s current and future needs. Above all, what the energy policy debate needs most is a sound sense of balancing costs with benefits.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company