Tom Smart, Deseret News
Members of HEAL Utah rally against EnergySolutions' proposal to import foreign nuclear waste for cash at the state Capitol last year.

SALT LAKE CITY — An activist group that squares off against nuclear waste says Utah is ideally positioned to embrace a greater reliance on renewable energy, citing what they say is a groundbreaking study that shows even existing technology can make it a viable pursuit.

In the process, HEAL Utah said Tuesday, state policy leaders should steer clear of the proposed development of a nuclear power plant in Green River, Emery County, and work to wean Utah off reliance on coal.

"This is visionary, and a long-term study looking at Utah's energy demands over the next 40 years and how we can meet those using a system based mainly on renewable energy," said Christopher Thomas, HEAL's policy director.

At the same time, HEAL's executive director, Vanessa Pierce, acknowledged that opposition posed by her group against nuclear power and criticism by environmentalists against the coal industry could create a quandary: "How are we supposed to turn on the lights? That is not an insignificant question."

HEAL commissioned Dr. Arjun Makhijani to conduct an analysis of how Utah could broaden its renewable energy portfolio and write a report, "eUtah: A Renewable Energy Roadmap." Makhijani is president of the Institute of Energy and Environmental Research.

Two years in the making and crafted with the guidance of an advisory board made up of policy leaders, industrial energy users, consumer advocates and energy experts, the report takes Utah solar and wind energy data and shows how those renewables can be coupled with energy storage technologies to meet the electricity needs of Utah by mid-century.

A number of recommendations come out of the report that HEAL's leaders believe state public policy officials should pursue, positioning Utah to be a leader in the production and consumption of renewable energy.

Among them is to tap the city of St. George, which is already in the midst of a progressive solar program. The proposal is to use the city as a laboratory of sorts for a move toward energy consumption that is nearly all solar.

In addition, HEAL believes Utah should start a pilot project to store compressed-air energy in downtimes of wind production and look to a company that is already using gigantic salt caverns to store natural gas near Delta.

Other priorities the group plans to push for include the development of a 200-megawatt geothermal plant and for the state to adopt new energy-efficient standards for residential construction.

That move is already on the radar of Utah Clean Energy, which met with lawmakers earlier this year to push adoption of the more stringent codes.

HEAL leaders met Tuesday morning with state employees and public officials who have a stake in crafting energy policies for Utah.

Ted Wilson, Gov. Gary Herbert's senior adviser on environmental issues, said afterward that Herbert will take a strong look at the report as the state goes about crafting its 10-year energy plan.

"Over a 40-year time span I think (the report) is realistic," Wilson said. "I mean, I think that is the direction we have to move."

Despite that belief, Wilson said the challenges will be overcoming the cost difference in coal-fired electricity, which runs about 7 cents a kilowatt hour in contrast to renewables which are 18 cents for the same output.

Until technology makes renewables more viable on a widespread scale or carbon emissions make cheap energy produced by coal less palatable, Wilson said there will not be a pell-mell rush to convert.

"That political question would have to be solved."