As Utah's population has increased and energy consumption has gone up, a report released this week shows that residential, commercial and industrial consumers get over 85 percent of their electricity from coal-fired power plants.

Oil and natural gas production, meanwhile, are reaching record levels in Utah, as watchdog groups wring their hands over impacts the energy industry is having on environmental and archaeological resources in the state.

The Utah Foundation report, "Utah's Energy Use & Resources: Powering Our Standard of Living," warns that Utah's "abundant" in-state energy resources for oil, coal and natural gas are limited and that in 50-100 years, the state's fossil fuels will start to run out.

Foundation research analyst David Newell said the finding that resources are limited should send a message to consumers that they need to pressure government and electricity providers to increase research and development into renewable energy sources.

Increased short-term costs to consumers for that approach will be relatively less than what the price of renewable energy will be eventually if Utahns find themselves in need but without adequate supplies. Public and private sectors need to work in tandem toward cost-effective solutions to future energy needs, he said.

The report noted that 12.5 percent of electricity produced for consumption in Utah comes from natural gas-fired technology, 1.5 percent from hydroelectric sources and less than 1 percent from petroleum-fired or renewable resources such as wind, sun, biomass and geothermal. Electricity sales in Utah are divided almost equally by thirds among residential, commercial and industrial users, with industry purchasing 35.7 percent of the electricity used in this state.

This year Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. authorized the Renewable Energy Zone Task Force, intent on seeing the state get 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. The Utah Automated Geographic Resource Center already has data showing areas that might be suitable for wind power development and the more likely places to harness solar energy.

Huntsman also signed the Energy Resource and Carbon Emission Reduction Initiative, which, starting in 2025, requires that 20 percent of "adjusted sales" from electrical corporations and municipal utilities come from renewable resources "if cost effective."

The Utah Department of Natural Resources recently announced that natural-gas production reached an all-time high in 2007, and oil production last year in Utah set a near-decade high at over 19 million barrels.

"This was accomplished by drilling record numbers of wells in the state the past few years," said Gil Hunt, who works for the state Division of Oil & Gas. "Without it, production numbers would continue to decline, as demand continues to increase."

The demand for increased production, however, may come at a price to environmental and archaeological resources, such as Utah's famed Nine Mile Canyon and its fragile panels of ancient Indian rock art.

The Bureau of Land Management has received thousands of negative comments about Bill Barrett Corp.'s proposal to increase oil and gas production in the West Tavaputs area near Nine Mile Canyon. Watchdog groups claim the company's plan would harm the rock art and wildlife in the area.

"The (Bush) administration has been relentlessly pushing oil and gas projects into some of our most valued Western landscapes, including Desolation Canyon and all around Dinosaur National Monument," Suzanne Jones of the Wilderness Society said in a statement. "The West Tavaputs project is certainly one of the most extreme examples yet."


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