Utah’s Energy Future: Smoking or Non?

As a society, we have decided that it is important to ban smoking indoors because of the serious health effects of secondhand smoke. This ban, of course, is protested by Big Tobacco junk scientists who claim no relation between cancer, lung disease, and smoking. But we know better.

And yet Provo-Orem continually ends up on the EPA’s “Dirty Dozen” cities list, whose air presents similar health risks. Tack on the prospect of runaway global warming, similarly protested by Big Oil’s junk scientists, and we should ask ourselves: Do we want a smoking, or non-smoking energy future?

Utah has an opportunity to embrace a clean energy future and a new generation of green jobs. According to a recent study by Environmental Defense Fund, Utah already has over a hundred small businesses employing people in renewable energy and efficiency. Enacting strong energy legislation such as what the US Senate will soon debate is key in creating even more jobs.

Utah has already led the way in this area.  In 2006, Governor Huntsman invested $1.8 million in making state agencies and facilities more energy efficient, converting portions of auto fleets to hybrids, improving insulation, building codes and changing old lighting to CFLs. The state is already beginning to see a return on its investment with a savings of $650,000 per year.

This investment paid for itself in three years, saving taxpayers millions. If you believe our air is too polluted and that our climate is warming, energy efficiency and renewable energy are for you. Even if you don’t believe that, at the very least this will save you money.

Utah also has untapped potential in wind, solar, and geothermal renewable energy. Texas currently leads the nation in wind deployment thanks to a state renewable energy mandate similar to the one being debated in Congress, and the wind experiments have worked. In the areas where the wind is generated, electrical rates are much lower.

Unlike the windfarms in most of the West where the wind really blows most at times when energy is least in demand, Utah’s canyon winds occur predictably every evening just as peak demand is highest. Consumers in Boulder, CO, a city with a similar climate to Utah Valley, are deploying solar on their rooftops and saving on their energy bills. Rather than burning more coal or gas to get that early evening electricity, Utah consumers could tap into these free resources that have already been provided to us by God, Nature or whatever your prevailing view of the Universe is.

Unfortunately, special interests eviscerated the clean energy bill while it was going through the House, making a smaller renewable energy standard, removing key energy efficiency provisions and giving away billions in pork to oil and coal polluters. But we have an opportunity to fix these problems in the Senate.

Whether it’s solar rooftops in Boulder or wind in Texas, the key has been innovative government policies. Change your leaders, not just your lightbulbs. When debating federal legislation, we should only ask ourselves whether we want more of the policies which have created jobs and lowered energy bills, or if we want more of the status quo: more dirty air, more coal, and more gasoline imported from parts of the world that don’t really like us. So, UVU, will it be smoking or non?

Andy Wilson is the Global Warming Program Director for Public Citizen’s Texas Office and lived in the Provo-Orem area for over 15 years.

Public Citizen is a national, non-profit consumer advocacy group.

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