Energy Summit mixes ideas, people and a little controversy from all over
There was something for anyone interested in energy at last week's Energy Development Summit held at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.
There was education, information, politics, and of course, controversy.
The Summit, which is sponsored by the Utah State Office of Energy Development, was held for its second year. The primary mover in getting this summit going is Gov. Gary Herbert, who with the 10 Year Strategic Energy Plan he put out a couple of years ago, listed getting information out about the energy industry as one of his main purposes.
The Summit, which took place on Thursday and Friday, saw people from all over Utah, 21 other states and five countries attending. With over 1,400 attendees it grew considerably from its first meeting last year.
Seminars on all kinds of subjects were presented, a large exhibition hall with vendors and energy development companies presented their wares, and speakers at the main meetings gave various viewpoints on the issues surrounding energy.
But not all was easy going throughout the conference. There were differences of opinion on the future of energy in the seminars, and outside groups, determined to put their ideas forward, protested outside the Salt Palace doors on Thursday morning. They then carried their protest up to the doors of the hall where Orrin Hatch had just spoken and a panel of Congressmen Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart along with Senator Mike Lee were presenting. While the protesters were being hustled out of the building by security and police one of the men in the protest yelled, "Don't you understand that the people in that room are killing other people?"
The protests that took place were voiced largely over energy development, with many groups and divergent opinions coming together in the protest. Some fear the development of tar sands and oil shale, others don't want to see gas or oil rigs on more public land, some were protesting the idea of putting a nuclear plant anywhere in the state and still others were protesting the burning of coal to provide power.
One protest actually got into the hall in the guise of attendees right at the beginning of the session. Right after a speech to almost all the attendees in the main hall by James D. Ogsbury, the executive director of the Western Governors Association, two people dressed in business attire and sporting passes into the event got up on the stage and tried to present an award for a dirty environment to the governor. The announcer immediately called for the Salt Lake City police to come forward and handle the situation.
The Summit's organizers asked that no one do video or photography of any of the presentations in the breakout sessions without permission, yet at least in one session on Friday about nuclear power, a man continued to video with a camera despite several requests that he not do so. He was finally removed by police and on the way out yelled that he was against nuclear power.
Despite the disruptions, however, the sessions and the summit went on. A number of people from Carbon County attended the Summit, looking at the various aspects of energy, jobs and technology.
During the summit three of the breakout sessions were billed as a conventional energy session oil, coal, gas). The rest of the sessions either dealt with renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal or nuclear) or unconventional energy (such as oils shale, tar sands) along with a number of sessions about energy efficiency.
Obviously some of the sessions were highly swung toward one kind of energy over another (and one type of energy development within the various kinds over another as well) in terms of future projections of use and viability.
One key theme amongst all the energy presentations was that the energy landscape is changing, much of it away from many traditional kinds of energy production. Some of what was said is not something that many people in Carbon County want to hear. Many seminars downplayed the future of coal and talked about natural gas being a "bridge" to other forms of energy. There was much speculation in some seminars about when coal-fired power systems will disappear from the Utah landscape. After this was stated time and time again, however, few could completely agree on what the base system for a power grid would be since many renewables are not reliable enough to provide that foundation.
Carbon County Jae Potter attended the conference and said he thought despite the fact that some downplayed coal he thought there was a lot of opportunity for the local area.
"I think that kind of thinking is cyclical," stated Potter on Monday. "Some of that has been brought on by the administration that is now in place."
He said he saw a lot of technology that he was excited about and that could make the nation energy independent,
"Take the seminar on oil sands," he said. "They had two different methods there that could easily be used in our area. And our county has a good deal of oil sands."
Potter pointed out that a joint venture between Utah State University and a private concern is coming close to running a commercial operation that can use local coal and coal fines and turn these materials into metallurgical coking briquettes. Coal used for making metal generally has had to come from the east, but this could make it so that coal from the local area could be used in this way.
"That would be a real shot in the arm to our economy," stated Potter.
In one seminar (on Thursday) the main theme was billed as a breakout session on oil shale and tar sands development, but as soon as attendees settled in they were told the session would not deal at all with tar sands, but with oil shale. That seminar sported four people on the panel, one one of which was an American. One was a Russian, another and Estonian and the third a Canadian. That seminar alone demonstrated the international flavor of the conference.
Nuclear energy was a hot topic, particularly since Blue Castle Holdings is still planning on building a nuclear power plant in Green River. Aaron Tilton, the CEO of the company, spoke and said that putting up a nuclear plant faces obstacles, but most of the perceived barriers are not what people think them to be.
"People think that the reasons it is hard to build a nuclear power plant has to do with licensing, environmental issues, water for cooling, what to do with used fuel and overall plant safety," said Tilton in an address on Friday. "But the real roadblock is finding the large capital investment to build one."
One company that was represented on the same panel is in the process of producing "modular" nuclear plants that would be built in a factory rather than on site such as the Green River plant will be. These would be much smaller units which when separately or together could provide base power for small to large areas.
Speakers in seminars also weren't limited to advocating power systems or energy types. In one seminar on nuclear energy Chris Thomas of HEAL (Healthy Environment Alliance) said that he and his group had real concerns about nuclear energy.
"The industry hasn't built a real plant (in America) in so long they don't know what the real costs will be to put one up," he said. "Despite the fact that federal loan guarantees exist for putting up such plants, half of the plants that have been in the planning or construction phases have been abandoned because of the high costs."
Other seminars concentrated on energy transmission, air quality in areas like the Uinta Basin, how the economy is affected by energy and even one on solar photo voltaic installations, among others.
Ultimately, most who attended summit felt they got a lot of information and saw many new things they had not known about.
This was the second Summit, with the first being last year. It appears that the governor has decided this is a good venue to hold year to year so it will be presented again next year.