Herbert unveils massive Utah renewable energy project, draws praise from Trump official, protests from climate activists

Renewable Energy

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced the formation Thursday of a partnership that is expected to result in the world’s largest “clean energy storage” project, to be developed in underground salt domes in Millard County.

This rural Utah investment, known as Advanced Clean Energy Storage, “demonstrates the power of the forward-looking energy policy” he has advanced, said Herbert during his annual Energy Summit in Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel, where climate activists also gathered — and briefly disrupted the proceedings — to demand an end to fossil fuels.

“I’m proud that Millard County’s skilled workforce, strategic energy infrastructure and unique geological salt domes have put Utah on the map as the epicenter of utility-scale storage for the western United States,” he said. “This investment shows Utah is not only blessed with unique energy resources but also benefits from wise policy and the ability to forge unprecedented partnerships that help drive innovation.”

Displeased with the governor’s fealty to coal and other carbon-belching fuels, activists staged a “People’s Response” outside the hotel and briefly commandeered the stage Herbert shared with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“Here in Utah, our challenges are twofold. We fight to protect sacred and public lands around the state from dangerous extraction industries, and we are fighting to stop the proposed Inland Port here in Salt Lake,” said Davina Smith, executive director of SLC Air Protectors. “As a Dine woman, my goal is to advocate and bring awareness so that we can ensure that clean air, land, water and life are the natural resources that Utah values most.”

On a project the protesters likely would endorse, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is joining with Utah’s Magnum Development to advance energy storage on state trust lands near the Intermountain Power Plant outside Delta.

The project employs salt caverns Magnum already uses to store liquid fuels. With Mitsubishi’s backing, the company now seeks to store wind and solar power by using them to compress air into the caverns. This power can be recovered when it is needed by running the air through turbines.

The Millard County effort will produce and store enough electricity to power 150,000 homes, the governor said, using four types of renewable energy: hydrogen, compressed air, large-scale flow batteries and solid oxide fuel cells.

Perry and Herbert highlighted the Magnum deal and other Utah renewable energy projects, particularly those involving geothermal resources, to make their case that emission reductions are best achieved through incentives and innovation as opposed to regulation.

“Let me commend the people of Utah, because your commitment to that vital aim is incredibly important, from the governor’s office to the state’s research institutions to the private sector,” Perry said. “I am delighted that Utah remains all-in on an all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

Perry made his remarks while joining a panel with Herbert, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Dominion Energy CEO and President Thomas Farrell, moderated by the Hinckley Institute of Politics’ Jason Perry.

Rick Perry emphasized the role of nonrenewable fossil fuels, however, in pushing the United States to “global energy supremacy.”

“By increasing our fuel diversity, we are increasing our grid resiliency and that strengthens our energy security and enhances our economic security. That’s why instead of punishing fuels that produce emissions through regulation, we’re seeking to reduce emissions by innovation,” the energy secretary said. “By any measure, we’re succeeding. We’re the number one producer of oil and gas in the world. And, at the same time, we also lead the world in reducing energy-related carbon emissions.”

Perry, a former governor of Texas, a leading producer of both oil and wind energy, went even further to say U.S. exports of liquid natural gas and coal can clean up global carbon emissions, even though these fuels release heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Such exports can also liberate allied nations, like those in Eastern Europe, from reliance on hostile neighbors that can turn a pipeline on and off to advance a political agenda.

“We truly are a superpower when it comes to energy under President [Donald] Trump’s leadership,” Perry said. “We’re now producing more energy, more abundantly, more affordably, and, I might say, more cleanly and efficiently. We’re attaining it from this wider range of sources than anyone ever thought possible.”

About 20 minutes into the panel discussion, a group of young activists took the stage, chanting, “Your time is up! Climate action now!”

“What Governor Herbert touts as a diverse energy portfolio is really just a dishonest attempt to continue bolstering fossil fuel economies,” Eliza Van Dyk, a Westminster student and organizer with Wasatch Rising Tide, said after the five-minute disruption. “As young people, we feel our pleas for a sustainable future are being ignored or met with false solutions. Events like the Governor’s Energy Summit, which are inaccessible to most of the public, further exemplify that Herbert’s energy policy is not in the best interest of the people but rather the fossil fuel elites who continue to sacrifice our future.”

After being escorted from the hotel’s ballroom, the activists derided Herbert and other speakers for failing to acknowledge what many regard as an ecological catastrophe unleashed by heavy use of fossil fuels that has pushed carbon dioxide to levels in the atmosphere not seen in nearly a million years.

Continued use of oil, gas and coal are “not an option when imminent climate chaos is threatening our futures, especially communities living on the front lines of industry and disaster,” said Olivia Juarez, Latinx organizer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Still, many of Thursday’s speakers, participants and attendees were leaders in renewable energy, advancing the very technologies that are hoped to replace these carbon-heavy fuels. Herbert said he appreciated the youthful enthusiasm and concerns raised by the activists, whom he added should be heard and respected.

“We’ve talked about today what they want us to do and provide cleaner fuels. That’s happening. They want it to happen now. But the practical reality is it takes some time to transition without crashing the economy. They would like to quit by Friday, to not take anything out of the ground,” Herbert said. “My suggestion to them is start your own conference to see how many people show up to support your cause rather than come and disrupt what we’ve done here.”

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