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Advocates want more specifics out of Utah’s new vision for energy development

The coal-fired Hunter Power Plant near Castle Dale, Utah.
The coal-fired Hunter Power Plant near Castle Dale, Utah.

The Utah Office of Energy Development has released a plan outlining the governor’s vision for energy resources.

According to Executive Director Thom Carter, it’s the first update in about a decade.

“It's pragmatic,” he said. “It's down the middle. How can we just find workable solutions? It may not be the sexiest thing in the world, but oftentimes solutions are not sexy. And I'm OK with that.”

State officials used public opinion and interviewed industry stakeholders to craft the plan. It lists affordability, reliability and sustainability as values that drive energy development.

There are several “commitments” that guide the strategy, including working toward “American energy independence” and giving Utahns “any of the above” energy options, like coal, hydrogen and solar.

Another is finding climate solutions that are “pragmatic” and “market-driven.”

Gov. Spencer Cox believes that can happen through policies that encourage innovative energy production.

“This is not something that's going to be accomplished by Big Oil or Big Government,” he said. “It's going to be accomplished by every single citizen doing their part and making it easier for those citizens to do their part. That's our goal and that's our vision.”

Some environmental advocates say the plan lacks details, and they want to see more specifics. Josh Craft with Utah Clean Energy said it’s a good first step, but climate action really needs to come faster.

“The challenge of climate change is staring us in the face,” Craft said. “The consequences, particularly the drought that we're seeing here, we can't put this problem to the side. It needs to be at the center of our efforts.”

The one thing Craft was excited to see in the plan was a desire to update a 2008 law that set a goal for Utah utility companies to source 20% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2025. The new strategy calls for an update to that goal to further reduce carbon emissions.

For Carly Ferro, executive director of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the plan falls flat.

“Overall, we continue to be disappointed in the state's processes and energy plans that favor fossil fuels,” she said. “This plan is not one we feel is informed by Utahns nor will address climate change and its impact on public and environmental health. We will continue to push for inclusive, transparent, and just processes that promote robust and immediate actions necessary to realize the collective future that favors all Utahns and a healthy climate.”

Cox said he’s working with legislative leaders to develop policy proposals.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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