New report: How Utah can thrive in the new climate economy

Today, the Utah Foundation released Going for the Green: How Utah Can Thrive in the New Clean Economy. Innovations and other measures from corporations, along with new policies and investments from the federal government, provide states with a range of opportunities to capitalize on the transition to an economy that prioritizes climate-focused strategies. Going for the Green analyzes job-creating opportunities by economic sector, explores opportunities from the public and private sectors, and looks at ways Utah is seeking to bolster economic activity in rural parts of the state. It also sets forth paths through which Utah can emerge as a leader in the new clean economy. The purpose of the report is not to determine which public and private efforts most effectively address climate change. Rather, it recognizes that various efforts are currently underway, and that they represent both economic opportunities and challenges for Utah.

Among the findings of the new report:

  • Utah’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are 19th highest in the nation.
  • Reaching the goal of cutting Utah’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by three quarters over 30 years would require major shifts in how Utah addresses electric power generation, transportation, industry, commerce and home energy usage.
  • Utah could leverage federal funds toward large clean energy projects, such as the pump-storage project in the Navajo Nation, the green hydrogen project in Millard County and carbon capture at Utah’s coal-fueled power plants.
  • Coal mining and coal-fueled electricity generation jobs represent about 5% of the direct employment in Utah’s seven more coal-dependent counties. The State of Utah may need to support these counties in any transition from coal-fueled electricity generation. Utah should consider ramping up rural broadband, telework opportunities, tourism infrastructure, monetary support and targeted educational opportunities.
  • Were there a cost on carbon, utility-scale solar would likely be the cheapest electricity in every county in Utah. Wind projects would also be more competitive across a wider geography.
  • Utah’s predominantly renewable-energy development through 2040 could create an estimated 39,000 construction jobs and 900 operations jobs, along with investment and tax revenue for local communities.
  • Utah is already an innovator in renewable natural gas, geothermal energy, battery storage, and carbon capture and storage, which suggests that Utah is well-positioned to lead with those and other climate-focused strategies.
  • Looking forward, there are multiple steps Utah can take toward becoming a leader in the new climate-focused economy, such as:
    • Creating a state commission and/or office dedicated to addressing climate challenges and climate-focused economic development, including the needs of rural areas and electricity transmission for Utah’s renewable energy power sources
    • Developing a technological solutions laboratory.
    • Creating a fund to support entrepreneurs seeking to create marketable clean energy innovations.
    • Encouraging clean transportation options.
    • Exploring more stringent building efficiency codes.
    • At the federal level, determining whether it makes sense for Utah to support approaches such as an agricultural producer carbon sequestration credits program and a carbon pricing mechanism.

Utah Foundation President Peter Reichard said there are challenges ahead, particularly for communities in economic transition. But “if it plays its cards right,” Utah is overall in an advantageous position. “A new clean economy is rapidly emerging, regardless of political winds,” Reichard said. “Utah has significant opportunities to grab on to this momentum – and bring benefits to its citizens in terms of a robust economy and a healthier environment.”

The executive summary of Going for the Green:How Utah Can Thrive in the New Clean Economy is here and the full report is here. This project was funded by Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the West’s land, air and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance with nature.