Climate change options range from nuclear energy to retiring coal power plants, planting trees

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - A panel appointed by the governor to chart state policy on climate change took a Chinese restaurant menu approach, choosing from a lengthy list of options that left some hungry for more and others worried they had bitten off too much.

The Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change, appointed in August by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., was presented with 88 policy options - from retiring dirty-coal power plants and mandating renewable energy production to planting more trees.

In a preliminary vote, the panel weeded out 19 options it deemed less attractive, settling on a policy that generally advocates market-driven incentives for expanded renewable energy and new statewide efficiency targets for things like appliances and buildings.

It also gave a surprisingly strong endorsement to development of nuclear energy, a hot-button issue in the state, which has fought the storage of nuclear waste within its borders.

Half of the 24-member council supported development of nuclear power, even though the subcommittee that looked at the issue called it a "low priority" and said that "questions about waste disposal and safety make it unlikely that nuclear energy development will result in near-term reductions in (carbon dioxide).


Indeed, nuclear development received more support from the council than a recommendation that the state develop a "renewable energy portfolio" - a requirement that some percentage of the state's electricity come from renewable sources, like wind, solar or geothermal.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have already adopted a renewable portfolio standard, and Huntsman has embraced the concept, appointing a task force in May to study the issue and make recommendations.

"The same old saying applies here. Utah will go kicking and screaming into the 21st century," said Tim Wagner, conservation coordinator for the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club, a council member who is co-chairing the Huntsman renewable energy task force. "Public opinion is strongly supportive of really addressing the subject.... In the end, I do believe we'll end up with something good."

The council, made up of representatives of various energy interests and advocacy groups, is scheduled to report to Huntsman in August on its consensus recommendations on how the state could cut greenhouse gas emissions and address global warming.

Carol Hunter, vice president for division services at Rocky Mountain Power, said she worried that the council may have been too eager to support renewable energy, and the pressure to abandon fossil energy without a reliable alternative could make it hard to guarantee electricity when consumers flip on their light switches.

"The idea is to make sure we have enough choices that we can operate," Hunter said.

David Litvin, president of the Utah Mining Association, also expressed concern that the report favored renewable energies at the expense of traditional fossil fuels.

"As we move forward as a society we need all these sources of energy," Litvin said.

The council will hold two more meetings, on July 31 and Aug. 14, before delivering its report to Huntsman before the end of August.


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