Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Wind turbines at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon are generating about 19 megawatts of electricity.

You can see it already, a grouping of huge white wind turbines at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, where the seeds of an energy movement in Utah have already taken root.

Last Wednesday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Renewable Energy Zone Task Force held its first meeting. It's another step toward reaching Huntsman's goal of requiring utilities to deliver 20 percent of their power, "if cost-effective," from sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2025.

"I think that the target is achievable," said Dianne Nielson, the governor's energy adviser. "The hard part is figuring out how to reach it."

That will be the job of a 20-member task force made up of people from utilities, renewable energy developers, environmental groups, energy advocates and officials from federal, state and local agencies.

The group will be led by Nielson and Utah Geological Survey director Rick Allis. Their task will be to learn how much renewable energy in Utah can be cost-effectively delivered to market and what new policies might be needed to make that happen.

"Development of Utah's renewable energy resources can provide affordable, secure energy for our future," Huntsman said in a statement.

Jason Berry outlined for task force members how wind, solar and geothermal energy is collected and where in Utah the best places are for the biggest potential gains from each source.

"Commercial resources are really limited," Berry said about wind resources being developed on a large scale. He heads the State Energy Program.

Those turbines near Spanish Fork Canyon are now producing about 19 megawatts of electricity, with one megawatt providing enough electricity for about 500 homes plugged into a grid system. Another four projects capable of putting out about 857 megawatts of wind-generated electricity are in development, Berry reported.

"There is interest out there," he added.

Solar energy would be collected using a "parabolic trough" technology, which then heats water to generate steam that powers a turbine to make electricity.

"Utah has an excellent solar resource potential," Berry said. The best resources there appear to be in the west and southwest parts of Utah.

Electricity produced using geothermal resources involves drilling deep into the ground for the heated water that powers a turbine before being pumped back into the ground. Although that resource is also considered "limited," there are 82 megawatts of geothermal-generated electricity "in progress" right now. One of the task force members is Raser Technologies, which is building a geothermal plant near Minersville and has several similar projects under development.

The challenge, Berry said, is figuring out the best, most economical way to bring all of that electricity into a grid system that caters to coal-fired power plants when the cleaner, renewable resources are located so far away from existing transmission points.

Still, the ideas are growing and the task force in its first phase of life will be trying to generate a report before the 2009 Legislature, in time to give Huntsman a more focused look at specific renewable energy zones that are the most ripe for development.

In addition to the task force being formed, Utah is also one of 12 states participating in an initiative dubbed, "National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices Securing a Clean Energy Future."


E-mail: sspecckman@desnews.com