In the last few weeks we at the Sun Advcoate and Emery County Progress have been working on our annual Energy special edition that will come out in our paper on March 20th.
Each year that is the biggest single special we produce, and selling the advertising for it as well as producing the editorial brings each of us a whole new respect for what the men and women of our local energy businesses do each day.
This year I spent a lot of time doing photography for the special, so I drove around to a lot fo the mines and gas installations in the area. I looked at mines that were totally defunct, others that are idled and others that are actively producing.
I traveled to the power plants and took photos of gas field operations.
Then I spent time interviewing people in the industry and discussed our areas future with them.
Many are nervous, yet confident that the energy sector in our area will be viable for a long time to come. There is still a lot of coal in the mountains and cliffs around the two county area and companies are overcoming technological challenges to get that coal out.
Our biggest challenge, as it has been for many years, is that of politics and the environment.
It's easy for people far away, mostly in large cities to say that power should be generated by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. It's easy for them to talk about doing away with coal as the major electric power producing fuel in the United States. It's easy for them to think about destroying rural economies dependent upon energy production by having energy policy drift off into some dream world, where all the power everyone needs comes out of the sky and is magically transmitted across the country electronically without transmission lines.
All these things are easy, but then it is easy to have your imagination run away with you.
Few of the people who want to see the role of coal in energy production end even understand how it is made. They don't understand grids, they don't understand generation and they don't understand that without coal their lights would go out much of the day.
Last year in the Energy special I wrote an article about NIMBY's (people who say energy infrastructure should not impact them or Not In My Back Yard). Basically such people are unrealistic. That is of course unless we all want to go back to living the way we did before the industrial revolution.
There are some that say we should do that. But they never had to live then; when most work was done by hand and unmechanized agriculture ruled the world. The population of the world at the time was less than a billion people. Now we have seven billion and it is growing rapidly. Food production alone for that many people would be impossible without modern technology.
Of course the NIMBYs would say let someone else worry about that.
The fact is that we in eastern Utah have been in the shadow of energy development for 120 years. While Wasatch Fronters have enjoyed first the coal that our hard working miners produced for many years that heated their homes, and now today the power that comes from the plants that operate here and give them all the modern conveniences, many want to see our role end. They want the plants to be closed. They want the mining to stop.
But they also want and consume more energy all the time.
When I was a boy our dairy farm in Murray started to be surrounded by subdivisions. With that came complaints of the new neighbors concerning the odors from our barnyard and the fact that we were out harvesting wheat at 2 a.m. in the morning with machines. Those people wanted us and all farmers away from them, not in their back yard.
Well they got their way. Where my family's farm stood is now a mobile home park and a golf course. There are literally no farms left in the Salt Lake Valley. Part of the reason for the demise of farming there was that no one understood where their food came from. Sure, they are still getting their food, but how many farms can be displaced in this country by urban sprawl before we start to find we can't produce (or it isn't worth it to produce) enough for everyone?
Energy is the same way. Most of these people who have attitudes about our mining and power production industry really don't have any idea where it comes from, how it is produced and what roadblocks must be overcome to get the energy to them.
I remember when the Crandall Canyon disaster happened I was watching a news anchor man on a Chicago television station state after he had reported the tragedy "Gee I didn't know we even mined coal in this country anymore. Why do we even do that?"
Those that want coal to go away can have their dreams of the sun, the wind and the earths internal heat generating all their power, but it will be long time before those technologies can assure one of flipping on a light switch and having the light come on every time, time after time.
All I can say is thanks to each of those who work in the energy industry in our area.
Without you our world would be a much dimmer place.