Coal has been getting bad publicity for years now, given all the concerns about climate change and other forms of pollution that come from burning it. The venerable black fuel has been supplanted by natural gas in new electric generating plants, spurring a question about how much longer coal will be used.
The corollary to that question is how Castle Country's economy will look if mining declines. Miners and power plant workers have traditionally supported the rest of the business and industry here.
Price Mayor Joe Piccolo declares that there's no need to write coal out of the nation's energy mix, especially if research and science can achieve some breakthrough technologies to make it cleaner and more efficient. If Price could host an energy research center of its own, the local economy would not necessarily follow coal production downward. Research could lead production upward.
That is why the capital improvement projects to be submitted to the Community Impact Board in 2011 include a $17 million "USU Research Park," and indicate that Price City would apply for $2 million in grants and $5 million in loans to make it happen here. These numbers are all preliminary estimates.
The rest of the money could come from a consortium of Utah State University, state and federal agencies, and energy company investors. Piccolo said some energy executives have expressed support for the idea, but he did not want to mention individuals or companies at this early stage in the process.
The research facility would not compete with USU's Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center that opened in Vernal last September, the mayor said. It would complement the overall mission to find new technologies for the state's energy resources and bring them to market.
The 70,000 square foot Bingham Center goes beyond traditional classroom education. USU's non-profit Research Foundation Energy Dynamics Laboratory is seeking new technologies in a range of energy fields with the objective of bringing them to market through entrepreneurship and investment.
Noting that Price, like Vernal, is in the heart of Utah's energy country, the mayor said, "We feel that it is critical that we be active participants and partners in the research and long-term planning processes."
In Piccolo's view, Price City is ready to serve as "a catalyst" to make things happen. The city has and will have a stake in energy's future. "A business and research park in Price that is focused on the energy industry is essential for future jobs, education and economic opportunity," he declared.
Ideally, the research park would attract scientists and technologists, which in turn would spur additional investment and development, he explained. Piccolo also said the city's location and existing infrastructure make it a logical choice for expanding USU's involvement in advancing energy production and development.