SALT LAKE CITY -- As the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reached its 50th day, Gov. Gary Herbert launched what he calls his "10-Year Strategic Energy Plan."
On Tuesday Herbert announced the formation of a working group to develop the plan and outlined a broad strategy that doesn't call for limiting carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
- Ensure Utah's continued access to our own clean and low-cost energy resources.
- Develop and deploy new cutting-edge technologies that combine Utah's traditional fuels with future opportunities for renewable.
- Create new energy-related manufacturing opportunities and jobs in Utah.
- Address future transmission, generation, and other infrastructure needs, largely through regulatory reform.
- Promote energy efficiency and conservation.
- Expand and facilitate responsible development of Utah's energy resources, including traditional fuels, alternative fuels, and renewable fuels.
- Expand opportunities for Utah to both market and export fuels, electricity and technologies to regional and global markets.
- Enhance and further integrate partnerships between industry, universities, state government and local communities—especially those in energy-rich rural communities—to address future energy challenges and opportunities.
- Collaborate with other Western states to present a strong and unified voice to federal regulatory agencies on energy and public land issues.
The governor emphasized the free market, dismissing the billions in incentives favored by the Obama administration.
He says the timing of his announcement Tuesday is purely a coincidence, but he also clearly sees the Gulf spill as an opportunity to encourage more drilling onshore in places like Utah.
"Why are we drilling for oil 5,000 feet below the ocean level, where the risk of contamination and environmental spoilage are so great and so significant, when those same resources can be accessed inland where there is minimal risk for environmental damage?" Herbert said.
The nine-point plan includes ensuring access to low-cost energy resources, developing new technologies, combining traditional fuels like coal and natural gas with renewables like wind and solar, and creating energy-related jobs.
When questioned by reporters, Herbert concedes energy companies should be encouraged to avoid mistakes, "whether it's enhanced penalties or just better technology in place in advance and recurring testing."
He dismisses as impractical the Obama approach of using billions in incentives to spur growth in renewables.
"We won't follow that model in Utah. We're going to follow the tried and tested model of free markets," Herbert said. "I think that solving the nation's energy crisis is a lot more than just giving some incentives to a few folks to have solar panels on the tops of their roofs. It's more complex than that."
Clean energy advocates left out
Notably absent at the event were clean energy advocates, who say they weren't invited, though they were key advisers to Herbert's predecessor, Jon Huntsman.
"So I think that there are many people who are not at the table that should be at the table," said Executive Director of Utah Clean Energy Sara Wright.
The governor's energy adviser, Dianne Nielson, said a invitation was broadly sent out to a variety of groups. Nielson said many of the concepts championed by clean energy advocates, like energy efficiency and support for renewables, are part of the governor's energy plan.
Ted Wilson, the governor's environmental adviser, envisions the plan mapping out Utah's energy resources. "That would mean a projection on coal life, a projection on gas and oil," Wilson said. "A projection of where we could place alternatives like solar, wind and transmission."
The campaign of his Democratic opponent, Peter Corroon, reacted to Herbert's plan Tuesday. They point out that the governor has talked about renewable energy but then didn't support specific legislation aimed at encouraging renewables and energy efficiency.
Herbert not convinced humans affect global temperatures
The group's creation comes as the U.S. projects its greenhouse gases will grow by 4 percent through 2020, but Herbert isn't convinced that humans affect global temperatures. He had planned to hold what he called the first legitimate debate on the topic this spring, although none has occurred.
"The result of man's impact, great or small, on climate change and global warming is probably irrelevant. We want to have clean air and we want to have an abundance of energy that's cleaner and affordable," said Herbert.
Last month, the National Academy of Sciences, which advises the government on scientific matters, called global warming an urgent threat and called for a carbon tax on fossil fuels or a cap-and-trade system for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Herbert has been a vocal critic of proposed cap-and-trade programs because he believes they would unfairly raise Utah's relatively low energy prices, which are heavily dependent on coal.
Some of Herbert's largest campaign contributors are energy companies, including Rocky Mountain Power. Its president, Rich Walje, will serve on Herbert's working group, along with officials from EMB Energy, Questar Gas and several state agencies.
Plan due at end of 2010
The group's plan is due at the end of the year, although its unclear if the deadline will be before the November election. Herbert tasked the group with accomplishing those goals and others without providing tax incentives.
A document provided by Herbert's office hints at what the group will pursue, although it provided few specifics.
Wilson, a working group member, said public hearings would be held for environmental groups and others that want to provide input on the energy plan proposal.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Salt Lake County Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon issued a statement in response to the governor's energy plan. CLICK HERE to read it.
Story compiled with contributions from John Daley and the Associated Press.