In a coal-dependent state whose economy depends on energy exports, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert last Tuesday rolled out a framework for a statewide energy initiative that he hopes will include coal, renewables and various alternatives.

The process is to be overseen by the governor’s senior environmental adviser, Ted Wilson, and is supposed to create “a long-term strategic energy initiative” for Utah. An eight-page document released in Salt Lake City provides the content and objectives that Wilson is now charged with implementing.

While stressing a need for Utah to collaborate with neighboring western states and for the state to continue to be a major energy exporter, Herbert also said the ultimate plan needs to be “uniquely Utah,” focusing on what he sees as the state’s strengths and competitive advantages. He specifically parted company with what is perceived as the Obama administration’s reliance on increased government spending to reform the energy sector.

“The Utah plan will not follow this federal model of forcing reform through government incentives,” Herbert said. “It will instead rely upon the time-proven principle of the free enterprise system.” He said he does agree with President Obama that taking a leadership role on clean energy allows a state or nation to lead in economic matters.

Earlier this year Herbert outlined his vision for the state, emphasizing three major areas that he thinks are interdependent — the state’s economic, energy and education programs.

While giving a nod to potential nuclear development and traditional fossil fuels, Herbert said Utah’s greatest potential still rests in its ability “to utilize traditional fuels along with renewables and to find clean, safer and more efficient ways to harness the energy that will help enable prosperity.”

In outlining nine initiatives and objectives, Herbert made it clear, coal has to be an underpinning. The first item on the list of nine is “ensuring Utah’s continued access to its own clean and low-cost energy,” and the second is to combine new “cutting-edge technologies” with coal and the other fossil fuels.

Utah enjoys both low and stable electricity prices because of its abundant coal-fired electric generation, Herbert said. Coal mining, transportation and generation plants collectively represent what Herbert called “tens of thousands of jobs” in the state. In addition, the state gets nearly $250 million annually in tax revenues tied to the energy industry ($70 million in oil/gas severance tax revenues, $100 million in property taxes from the energy sector, and $63 million in sales and use taxes from energy).

The rest of the initiative’s objectives following the first two are:

In stressing his state’s desire to export energy, Herbert used the example of the massive coal-fired Intermountain Power Project that is operated by its majority owner, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and whose majority output is sent out of state on a major transmission system that interconnects Utah with load centers in Arizona, California and Nevada.

Further, in touting more collaboration, Herbert acknowledged that more than 60% of his state’s land is controlled by federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency. “We cannot allow Congress and the Obama administration to dictate public lands policy or to engage in western ‘energy reform’ that does not take into account what we in the West want or that takes away our ability to do what we are capable of doing for ourselves,” he said.

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