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Governor's panel hears from Utah energy lands

Task Force member Stan Parrish makes a few points.

Sun Advocate publisher

If Governor Gary Herbert wanted input on his 10-Year Strategic Energy Plan, he got it from some officials and citizens of eastern and southeastern Utah last Wednesday night when Ted Wilson, the chairman of of the governor's Energy Initiative Task Force and members of that commission came to Price.

And not all of what they heard was pretty.

Wilson began the meeting with a pointed message he said he gave the governor when he was asked to run the commission.

"When he brought me into his office and asked me to do this I pointed out all the studies laying around the governor's office that had been done of the years on a number of things and that they were still just laying around and had never been acted upon," said Wilson. "He told me point blank that this study will be used and will not be gathering dust."

The hearings were part of Herbert's Utah Energy Initiative which was launched on June 8. Herbert had hatched the idea during his State of the State address last winter and by early summer had a plan for following that idea. Part of that plan was to get public input on energy and energy related topics.

Wilson presented the idea of the plan in the Carbon County Commission chambers and along side him were task force members Dianne Nielsen (Herbert's energy adviser), Stan Parrish (a business and economic adviser) and Robin Riggs (vice president and general counsel for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

In those ideas, he presented three things that he thought the study and initiative should address. First and foremost was to get a snapshot of baseline view of what energy is today in Utah, including jobs, development and the role of water in energy and what resources are currently available. Secondly, he said the task force would be looking at the potential that is within the state to provide new energy sources (from both the conventional and renewable sides of the issue, and thirdly, what the transition to new energy resources would be like, when it would take place and how it would be achieved.

After that those on the panel had few things to say, but the public and official input from the area went on for two hours. The issues ranged from looking at alternatives to what is the here and now of today.

"Our economy in this area is based on federal lands," Carbon Commissioner John Jones told the panel. "Sixty percent of the taxes paid in our county come from energy producers. What our legislature does when it comes to energy related matters is important to us. Just look at the loss of revenue to Wellington (legislation that was passed two years ago cutting sales tax on mining equipment). Most importantly we need to protect our rights on federal lands."

Commissioner Mike Milovich pointed out to the task force that while the local economy gets benefits out of energy production, it also takes all the hits for the development as well.

"Our resources take a heck of a toll on our communities," he said. "We've been going it on our own on our roads for years. The state seems to have little interest in us or our problems with energy production (other than the revenues those operations produce). All the coal haul roads have been built by the county with the wealth (of the production) going back to the state."

Milovich also pointed out the cooperativeness of some energy companies in helping with infrastructure problems created by their operations. But he also said that state agencies need to get involved, including SITLA (State Institutional Trust Lands) which Milovich said has been riding the wave of energy dollars like a "free agent."

Emery County Commissioner Jeff Horrocks talked a little about coal power plants and the new technologies that have been devised to cut down on water usage by such plants. But he also brought upt he problems that companies and local governments have with the regulations that override the opening of any kind of new operations.

"Look at the new Lila Canyon mine," he said. "We have been fighting for 10 years to get that open and it will produce 250 new jobs."

A good part of the discussion during the commissioners' comments also turned to taxation and central assessment, or the policy of the state to charge taxes to corporations centrally rather than let the counties run their own assessments on far-flung business operations. Riggs asked some questions about it and got a strong response from all three commissioners.

"This kind of assessment process cost our constituents $400,000 two years ago," said Jones. "The state needs to take a serious look at this. What is good for the citizens is good for business."

A number of energy companies also sent representatives. Scott Donovan from Bill Barrett Corp. and Ken May from Arch Coal talked with the task force about their operations. Donovan pointed out with the settlement of the West Tavaputs Project that Barrett has is funding archaeological studies in the impact area (at $1,000 per well, a fund that is front loaded with $250,000). May talked about the cost of coal power to the consumer as compared with other energy costs including that coal cost only 66 cents to produce one million BTUs. He also pointed out that the three mines his company operates (Sufco, Skyline and Dugout) employ 700 miners and 350 trucking associated workers, not to mention the other industries that supply materials, services and equipment to the mines.

In regards to that issue, Delynn Fielding, economic development director for Carbon County also mentioned that polices and incentives should be included for small businesses that support or are involved in energy transactions.

But the input wasn't all from local officials, nor was it from people who were pro-energy development.

John Weisheit, one of the principals of the Canyonlands Watershed Council made a presentation to the task force that included many issues. A Moab resident he said that his organization was against the development of tar sands on the Tavaputs Plateau.

"There is one site there that is being developed that encompasses 213 acres of land," he said. "If developed it would only supply six hours of energy for the nation. We should be looking to wind and solar energy for our existing use."

Being a water organization Weisheit also pointed out that Grand County is a watershed (with the Green, Colorado and Delores Rivers running through it) and that with water being so important to many traditional energy operations the water in those rivers is already over allocated.

"The Bureau of Reclamation has determined that there is already 15 million acre feet more consumption from the watershed than there is supply," he said.

Ivan White of Carbon County also was concerned about water.

"You can talk all you want about water rights, but what about real water availability?" he asked.

Nuclear power, particularly a plant that has been in the planning stages for the Green River area, was also under discussion.

Sara Fields from the Uranium Watch said that the true costs of such a facility could be substantial.

"I understand the need for jobs," she said. "But at what cost to water, people and tourism?"

Priscilla Burton of Cleveland also said she is nervous about the possibility of a nuclear plant in Emery County.

"I live 25 miles from where that plant would be and I have concerns about the waste from the plant," she said. "What do you do with the waste? I think this is a critical question that needs to be asked before anyone sites a plant in Green River."

Literally no one at the meeting denied the fact that alternative energy sources are coming, however. Everything from a possible wind farm in the Scofield area to solar power was discussed during the meeting.

"It is imperative to look to the future for new forms of energy," said Pam Miller of the Nine Mile Coalition during the meeting. "Renewable forms of energy should be built where people lose jobs from traditional sources."

Miller also added that while developing any energy project, cultural resources should be protected and that there is one good way to do that, based on her experience with energy development.

"People need to come together at the beginning of a project instead of when it gets bogged down," she said.

As for economic and energy development, Price Mayor Joe Piccolo pointed out that the means for that development already exists in the form of Utah State University College of Eastern Utah.

"CEU is a jewel in the rough that has not been carved yet," he said. "It is an economic development tool. It and other platforms we have should be utilized to developing other kinds of energy development."

At the end of the meeting Nielsen spoke to the crowd and thanked them for their input.

"Just remember that this is just the first step in this process," she stated. "We want this study and the initiative to be used and not just to sit on a shelf somewhere. And we also want it to be updated as needs arise."

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