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Utah's coal consumption impacts carbon footprint

Utah's coal consumption impacts carbon footprint

Sun Advocate editor

Utah ranks 39th in the nation in annual per capita energy consumption at 302.1 million British thermal units.

Environmental effects associated with energy consumption can be determined by carbon footprints. Footprints measure the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of greenhouse gases, calculated in units of carbon dioxide. Despite the state's lower consumption rate, Utah ranks 14th highest in the nation in per capita carbon footprint.

The discrepancy may be attributable to the types of energy the state consumes, noted Utah Foundation researchers. For example, coal-fired plants generate roughly 90 percent of Utah's electricity, compared with a national average of 49 percent.

Utah generates a significant amount of electricity from locally produced coal, providing the power market with distinct supply advantages and enabling residents to enjoy low prices. Utah's residential consumers pay 24 percent less for electrical power than the national average.

Coal constitutes the most widely distributed fossil fuel in the world. Ninety-two percent of the fossil fuel is used to generate power, providing approximately one-half of the electricity in the United States.

In Utah, coal generates about 90 percent of the state's electricity. Power generation consumes approximately 60 percent of Utah's annual coal production. Utah consumes 85.3 trillion Btu of electricity per year to rank 37th highest in the country.

The average state consumes 258.8 trillion BTU's. In 2006, Utah reported 886,169 residential, 108,003 commercial and 9,164 industrial electrical power customers.

The majority of Utah's coal is found in the Wasatch Plateau, Book Cliffs and Emery fields. Two of Utah's 10 mining operations are considered major U.S. coal producers - Dugout in Carbon County and Sufco in Sevier.

Utah ranks 12th in the nation for coal production and produced 26 million short tons of coal in 2006, which represented about 2 percent of total U.S. coal production in that year.

Utah produced 26 million short tons of coal in 2006, representing approximately 2 percent of the United States total.

The majority of Utah's coal is located in the Wasatch Plateau, Book Cliffs, and Emery fields. The major coal mines in Utah are operated by Canyon Fuel Company and Arch Western Bituminous Group.

Coal mining activity currently focuses on three Utah counties: Emery, Sevier and Carbon. Between 1870 and 1981, 490 million short tons of coal were extracted. From 1982 to 2004, an additional 490 million short tons of coal were produced due primarily to advancements in mining technology.

By 2030, U.S. demand for coal is expected to jump by 48 percent. Worldwide demand is anticipated to increase 73 percent, driven rising energy consumption in China and India, explained foundation researchers.

The worldwide market for energy consumption is expected to increase 57 percent from 2004 to 2030, with electrical generation nearly doubling 2004's rate in 2030. By 2030, the worldwide energy consumption from coal-based resources is expected to increase to 28 percent.

In 2007, 2.9 percent of the state's total wages or $1.3 billion were earned by the energy sector's 18,707 employees. In addition, $100 million in property taxes come from the sector, with oil and gas severances contributing another $71 million. Income taxes from energy employees registered at $50 million. Additional revenue sources included $51.6 million in federal mineral lease payments along with $365.8 million in motor and special fuels taxes in 2007.

The U.S. has more than 600 facilities utilizing coal as the dominate fuel source for creating electricity. An additional 120 coal plant projects remain in the construction, permit, or design phases.

Estimates to build a clean coal power plant project related costs at $1.5 billion with four years of construction. Comparatively, constructing a nuclear power plant can cost more than $2 billion and take five years to complete.

However, the comparison of up-front costs does not consider the expense per megawatt produced by plants, noted the independent organization's researchers. Furthermore, the ability to build coal plants remains under threat due to political and environmental pressures at the state and national levels.

In Utah, natural gas also represents a major source of energy. Utah has two major natural gas fields ranking among the top 100 in the nation. In 2006, the state produced 348 billion cubic feet or 1.8 percent of the U.S. total. The state's 4,858 active wells produced 385 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2007.

Between 1980 and 2006, Utah natural gas reserves grew by 328.48 percent. Production climbed from 87.7 billion cubic feet to 348 billion cubic feet, an increase of almost 300 percent. Coal bed methane operations accounted for more than one-fourth of statewide production.

Utah is a net exporter of electricity due primarily to coal production and fossil-fuel-fired power plants. But the state is a net importer of oil although Utah encompasses three of the nation's largest fields. Nevertheless, Utah has a relatively isolated energy market due to geographic isolation and transporting or transmitting costs. The relative independence could tend to make Utah's energy market less susceptible to nationwide fluctuations.

However, fossil fuels are an inherently diminishing finite resource. Worldwide oil reserves could start drying up in 50 years, followed by coal in 50 to 100 years. If overall consumption increases and per capita energy usage climbs, estimates are shorter. Diminishing supplies will likely lead to price increases and, eventually, scarcity of fossil fuel-based energy like gasoline and coal-powered electricity, concluded the independent organization's researchers.

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