Utah is a unique place in numerous ways but one aspect that makes the Beehive State especially stand out is its abundant natural resources—old and new.
The State is rich with traditional, renewable and unconventional energy resources. Traditional energy sources include fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, while renewable energy includes solar, wind, geothermal and more. Unconventional energy encompasses oil shale, oil sands and nuclear fuel, such as uranium.
Utah has an established infrastructure of traditional energy that is low cost and effective. In fact, the State is among the top 10 producers in the nation for coal, oil and gas. Utah is also second lowest in the nation for consumer prices of natural gas, and the State is third lowest for electricity prices.
This solid foundation of energy resources makes further exploration into renewable resources possible. “In Utah, we harness all of our varied resources,” says Samantha Mary Julian, Director of the Utah Office of Energy Development. “Utah’s coal and natural gas industry keep our power rates really low. The overhead costs are lower for a company doing business in Utah than if they were somewhere else.”
Powering the Economy
Energy, whether it be traditional or alternative, benefits the State’s economy in the form of job creation and tax stimulation.
“Energy jobs are high-paying jobs. They are at 191 percent of the state’s median income,” says Jeff Barrett, Renewable Energy Development Coordinator for the Utah Office of Energy Development.
Traditional energy employs 1.6 percent of the people in Utah, and $1.5 billion is paid in energy wages annually, according to the Governor’s Office of Energy Development.
“If you heat your home, if you drive your car, if you fly in an airplane—all those things—so much of our business, so much of our economy is driven by energy,” says Keith Schmidt, Senior Communications Coordinator with Newfield Exploration & Production, based in The Woodlands, Texas.
Newfield Exploration & Production is involved in exploring and developing hydrocarbon assets—oil and natural gas. Newfield is the largest oil producer in Utah and maintains a large office in the Roosevelt area and an oil field in the Monument/Butte area of the State.
“That energy is essential to not only the United States but also the world,” Schmidt says. “So hydrocarbon assets are extremely important. They comprise most of the vast percentage of the overall energy used in the world.” He adds, “A clean-burning hydrocarbon asset such as natural gas is important to our economy and we have a long-term domestic supply of energy with clean burning natural gas in massive shale, with plays in the early stages of development.”
The natural gas business in Utah means “jobs for people, revenues through taxes and royalty payments toward land owners and it means a vibrant local economy,” he says.
Further boosting Utah in the realm of energy, 50 percent of the money generated from coal, oil and gas produced on public lands—those owned and operated by the Bureau of Land Management and the State School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration—is returned to the State to be doled out for county rural development. Other coal, oil and gas land leases result in funds for public education, says Susan White, Environmental Manager with the Utah Office of Energy Development.
“When we can drill on more federal lands, and it’s allowed with more leases and permits to do that, it creates more jobs which creates more dollars for the State of Utah. Tax revenue goes into our schools, toward wages and so many other positive things,” White says. “We can help our country become energy-secure and not have to be dependent on foreign entities to produce it.”
A Balanced Approach
In addition to the State’s rich history with traditional energy development, many in the Beehive State are forging ahead into the innovative new realm of renewable energy.
One example is DwellTek, a Salt Lake City-based home energy solutions company. According to CEO Brad Peacock, the average home in the United States spends more than $2,300 in home energy costs and emits an average of 14,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. “We want to take the new technological innovations and get them into people’s homes,” Peacock says.
Though implementing energy-saving devices, such as solar panels, can be costly and, therefore, a deterrence, many in Utah see the costs as an opportunity to innovate solutions. “[Cost] is one of the challenges we are working to solve,” Peacock says.
Though the cost to get renewable energy up and running can be steep, it pays off nicely in the long run as far as financial benefits and environmental appreciation. For example, it takes money and years to create a wind farm—to manufacture the product, find the land, get the lease and deliver that power. But the power delivered is clean and effective, making it worth the initial investment.
And though much of renewable energy depends on uncontrollable factors, Utah’s wealth of traditional energy combined with the State’s advancements in renewable energy creates a balanced mix of reliable resources.
“We need power all the time,” Julian says. “The wind only blows at certain times. The sun only shines a certain percent of the day. It’s [because of] the cost, the time that we need baseload resources [like coal and natural gas].”
Julian explains that Utah continues to innovatively plan for the State’s future energy consumption needs. “How can we decrease land use—while increasing the power supply? How can we harness the wind better? How can we get more sun power into the solar panels in our buildings? That technology is still being worked on…I’m sure, as renewables get better and are easier to harness and less costly, we will be using them more and more.”
Efforts to harness energy in Utah received a boost in 2006 when the Beehive State launched its USTAR (Utah Science, Technology and Research) initiative. The main goal is to recruit and support, with State funding, innovative teams and research facilities at Utah State University and University of Utah in order to create technology that can be commercialized through new business ventures.
“Utah is very much an energy state, and there is a climate of innovation with a sophisticated workforce,” says Alan Walker, Director of the Technology Outreach and Innovation Program for USTAR, and Senior Advisor to the Director of the Energy and Geoscience Institute at the University of Utah College of Engineering.
Renewable energy is among the research focuses for USTAR. USU researchers are seeing success in scaling the production of biofuels from algae and biomass to commercial levels. USU is also emerging as a leading research center for electrified roadways and other paradigm-shifting technologies. At the U of U, nanotechnology and other experts are developing more efficient solar and geothermal approaches.
USTAR is reaching out beyond the research universities to every corner of the State.
“The landscape of Utah, as far as energy goes, helps provide an environment of success here for companies and businesses,” says Perry Thompson, Associate Director of USTAR’s Southern Utah Technology Outreach and Innovation Program and OED’s Special Projects & Rural Outreach Coordinator.
An example of a regional USTAR energy project in the works involves a solar-powered water heating system that, instead of being installed on top of a roof, is actually placed in the attic, according to Michael O’Malley, Marketing Director for USTAR and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“Why install extensive solar panels up on your roof when you can capture the heat that naturally resides in your attic—especially if you live in southern Utah—and use that resource to reduce the amount of energy you use to heat your water,” O’Malley says. “It’s a simple but brilliant idea.”
The entrepreneur, who is a plumber, used a grant provided through USTAR to work with Dixie State College. A team of students developed prototypes, refined the business plan and took the product to market. “It is innovative efforts like this that show Utah’s famed entrepreneurial spirit is at home in the energy marketplace,” O’Malley says.