Governor’s Energy Development Summit Has Become a Critical Energy Forum

Based upon the increasing level of interest and participation, the Governor’s Energy Development Summit, held Jan. 10-11 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, has proven to be one of the most critical energy forums in the Intermountain West. 

With representation from Utah‘s Congressional delegation, the Western Governors Association and a plethora of state leaders, the summit drove home the message that the western states have become leaders in energy production and they are willing to develop their resources responsibly. 

“As the western states act and think like energy producing states, that message will become stronger and stronger,” says Samantha Mary Julian, director of the Office of Energy Development (OED). “The summit is helping to position Utah for an exciting energy future that embraces a diversity of resources within a dual focus on responsible practices and economic growth,” says Julian. 

In Utah, the energy industry accounts for 20,000 jobs — about 1.5 percent of the working population — but pays 180 percent of the state’s average wage. To say the state’s energy industry is booming is an understatement. Perhaps that is why interest in this year’s summit was profound, not only from the significant increase in attendees over last year but also from the support of 70 sponsors and the involvement of well over 100 expert speakers from around the country. 

To be sure, the summit afforded some 1,400 attendees, representing 22 states and six foreign countries, the opportunity to examine the key issues in the ever-changing energy sector and to understand the significant value energy adds to Utah‘s world-class economy. It also provided a forum to discuss a wide breadth of energy issues, ranging from energy policy and environmental regulation, to technological developments, job creation, energy security and many other timely topics. 

Excellence in Energy Awards
New this year, Governor Gary R. Herbert awarded three Utahorganizations with Excellence in Energy Awards during the luncheon plenary session on the first day of the summit. The award recipients were selected from nine award finalists that were among dozens of worthy applications, “all of which reflected the impressive variety of energy development activities underway in Utah,” says Julian. 

Utah State University’s Commercial Enterprises office received the Energy Technology Innovation of the Year award for the commercialization of its wireless charging technology, which is being used to charge electric vehicle batteries on a transit bus through wireless power transfer. 

Davis School District received the Responsible Energy Developer of the Year award for its work in energy efficiency and renewable energy within its school buildings and infrastructure. 

The Ute Indian Tribe Uintah and Ouray Reservation received the Energy Producer of the Year award for completing the sale of tribal energy to another company, which sale may lead to significant energy investments in the state. 

The Energy Summit also featured an educational segment, wherein Salt Lake Community College released its Energy Cluster Acceleration Partnership report. Two years in the making, the report highlights the successes of Utah‘s colleges and universities in accelerating energy educational training to sustain Utah‘s core energy industry, driving growth accelerators and exploring future educational opportunities. 

Utah‘s energy industry is one of the core economic clusters of the UtahCluster Acceleration Partnership, which was established in 2009 to support higher education as an economic driver in the state. The Energy Cluster Acceleration Partnership (ECAP) was formed to focus on that cluster. 

Congressional Delegation
As the only energy summit in the state that brings all energy sources together in one conference, this year’s event included a strong showing from Utah‘s Washington, D.C. delegation. In fact, four of the state’s six Congressional leaders and their staffs were able to attend the summit and participate in the events. 

“Having our Congressional leaders here at the summit was a really important piece for us. Obviously, like Governor Herbert, they think energy is important. I think they are tuned in to what is going on in Utahregarding energy development and the challenges we face,” Julian explains. 

She adds that having the participation of environmental groups was also essential to the summit, especially in establishing a dialogue around environmental and land use issues underlying the question of how Utahcan develop its energy resources in a way that satisfies the concerns of all the interested parties. 

“We all need to be responsible developers. We all know that, but we wanted to be sure we had a dialogue around it. The Governor’s Energy Summit wasn’t designed as a forum for everyone on the same side of the fence,” Julian says. To that end, the she says the summit focused on the responsible development of Utah‘s energy resources, both conventional and alternative, and brought together environmental groups along with local and regional energy players from multiple sectors, including industry, government, academia, and non-profit groups. 

Regional Ties
During the summit’s first day, James D. Ogsbury, the newly appointed executive director of the Western Governors Association (WGA), spoke in the morning plenary session and later hosted a breakout session. Julian points out that Governor Herbert is the chair of the WGA, which represents 19 western states and three Canadian provinces. 

Contrary to the opinions of those who think Governor Herbert’s only priority is energy production from fossil fuels, Julian points out that the Governor has taken on a leadership role concerning alternative energy development. For example, a battle has been brewing in Washington over the extension of the wind production tax credit, which Julian says has bolstered the nascent wind industry. The tax credit was scheduled to expire the first of the year, but a one-year extension was authorized as part of the fiscal cliff tax deal. 

As Chair of the WGA, Governor Herbert took a leadership role on the tax credit late last year, drafting a letter to the leadership in Congress about 6-8 weeks before the extension vote. The letter was signed by Governor Herbert, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (WGA vice chair), and by most of the governors on the WGA board. 

“Many jobs were shed by U.S. manufacturing facilities in anticipation of the tax credit’s expiration, and that’s unacceptable. The health of the industry depends upon certainty and Governor Herbert’s letter to Congress helped provide a foundation upon which the industry can grow; ideally to a point where further support is no longer necessary,” says Julian. “Through his leadership in the WGA, Governor Herbert is showing balanced leadership on energy development in the West.” 

In another leadership step, Governor Herbert put together a WGA initiative that focuses exclusively on energy issues, such as energy education, alternative transportation fuels and interstate transmission development. “With Governor Herbert’s leadership, the WGA is keeping energy and environmental concerns top of mind,” she concludes.