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Insiders detail state's issue with energy study

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Jul. 5, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A dispute over the value of a human life was a major factor that helped derail a controversial study on Utah power plants.

Utah officials spent $200,000 in federal and state funds to have the study done. But when it was finished a few months ago, they sidetracked it and refused to vouch for it -- after it ran into a wall of opposition from industry.

The study blames Utah power plants for 202 premature deaths each year and for health and water costs up to $2 billion annually.

When it came out, industry raised several objections. The most heat was over the dollar value of a human life.

The study was to establish the relative cost of making electricity from coal vs. solar vs. wind, and so on.

The Synapse consulting firm worked with the Harvard School of Public Health. They concluded the hidden cost of Utah's coal-fired power-plants is up to $2 billion a year for water and health costs. They figured $8 million per death, using long established statistical methods.

Industry Criticisms of Energy Study
  • Ignored PacifiCorp's plan to reduce emissions
  • Didn't consider car and truck exhaust
  • Used worst-case risk scenarios
  • Used too high a value for water

Clean energy advocate Arthur Morris was at a state meeting where industry representatives denounced the study.

"Kind of went crazy," Morris said. "It was a little bit surprising to me that they were so incensed by valuing people too much."

"Anything that would increase energy costs gets our attention," said attorney Jim Holtkamp, air quality chairman for Utah Manufacturers.

Holtkamp says the study is highly questionable. "Wittingly or unwittingly, the results have been skewed a certain direction," he said.

He contends the study ignored PacifiCorp's plan to reduce emissions, it didn't consider car and truck exhaust, it used worst-case risk scenarios and it used too high a value for water.

Holtkamp acknowledges the most contentious issue was the value of a human life. He said $8 million is too high because the study used methodology designed for a different purpose: calculating safety benefits for young, healthy factory workers.

"That's different than the older population that's at risk here, and the other population that have underlying health problems," he said.

"I'll let him take that up with the kid who loses his grandparents," Morris counters. "This is a credible study using industry standard numbers. I mean, the Harvard School of Public Health doesn't have a vendetta against the industrial users of Utah."

After industry objected, state agencies placed the study on a website with a disclaimer saying they're not sure if they agree with it.

Last week KSL was told it's still under review, but so far it's had no discernible effect on state energy policy.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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