Utah is a state of contrasts, from flat salt desert to rugged canyons, and from mountains soaring above 13,000 feet in the northeast to the edge of the Mojave Desert 11,000 feet lower in the southwest. Deserts border the Wasatch Mountains, home to Olympic ski resorts. Temperatures vary greatly with season and altitude and have ranged from 117°F in the south in summer to 69°F below zero in the north in winter. About three-fourths of the population lives along the western base of the Wasatch Range, called the Wasatch Front, while the rest of the state is lightly populated. Utah was the third fastest-growing state by population from 2000 to 2010, and the fifth fastest-growing state from 2010 to 2015.
Utah has both fossil and renewable energy resources and is a net energy supplier to neighboring states.
Utah produces crude oil, natural gas, and coal and has geothermal, solar, and wind resources. The state is a net energy supplier to the nation, and the energy industry is an important component of Utah’s economy. Royalties from energy development on extensive state trust lands are the largest source of income for Utah’s public school trust fund. Construction, manufacturing, financial services, information technology, and tourism are also major industries. Two-thirds of Utah’s land is controlled by the federal government. Of the 50 states, Utah has the fourth highest number of producing mineral leases on federal lands.
Energy consumption in Utah is led by the transportation sector and the industrial sector. Each sector uses about one-third of the energy consumed in Utah. The residential sector and the commercial sector each use about one-fifth. Energy consumption per capita and energy intensity, the energy consumed per dollar of gross domestic product, are both below the national median.
Utah has a renewable portfolio goal that requires all distribution utilities to pursue renewable energy resources to the extent that it is cost-effective, with the goal of acquiring 20% of the electricity they sell from qualifying renewable sources by 2025. Energy sources eligible to meet the goal include both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal installations, methane from coal mines, and compressed air energy storage, if the compression power source is renewable energy. Eligible sources must have become operational after January 1, 1995.
Utah requires that renewable energy sources be used only if they are cost-effective for state ratepayers.
In 2015, more than 4% of Utah’s net electricity generation came from renewable sources. Hydroelectric generators typically supply between one-third and two-thirds of Utah’s net renewable electricity generation, with the annual amount depending on water availability at 63 small facilities. The state’s hydroelectric facilities are more than 60 years old on average; the oldest one dates from 1896. Power from post-1994 hydroelectric facilities in Utah can count toward the renewable portfolio goal, but there are limits on what can be counted from out-of-state hydroelectric facilities.
In 2015, wind energy supplied about one-third of Utah’s net renewable electricity generation, slightly more than hydropower. In mid-2016, Utah had five wind farms operating with nearly 400 megawatts of capacity, and another 80 megawatts under construction. The state’s largest wind farm sends its power to California. There is commercial wind power potential in the Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges in Utah’s north-central region and on the mesas of the western region. However, most wind investment approved for Utah utilities to date has involved Wyoming projects that Utah regulators deemed more cost-effective than in-state proposals.
In 2015, Utah was one of eight states with operating geothermal power capacity and one of seven with commercial-scale geothermal electricity generation. Three small geothermal facilities southwestern Utah provided about one-fourth of the state’s net renewable electricity generation. The state has among the best geothermal potential in the nation, and more geothermal projects are in development.
Until recently, biomass, primarily in the form of landfill gas at facilities on the Wasatch Front, provided the remainder of Utah’s renewable net electricity generation, because Utah historically obtained little net electricity generation from solar energy. But more solar generating capacity is being built, and, in 2015, solar provided more electricity than biomass for the first time. As of April 2016, 166 megawatts of utility-scale solar generating capacity were operating and some 600 megawatts were under construction. Of 17 areas of the West found suitable for large-scale solar development by a federal environmental study, 3 are in Utah. In addition, the state requires private and cooperative electric utilities to offer net metering, and solar arrays on consumers’ rooftops have been increasing by rapidly.In 2015, nearly 3,000 residential customers in Utah had solar facilities, and seven-tenths of all the state’s solar generation came from distributed (customer-sited small-scale) facilities.
In 2015, three-fourths of Utah’s net electricity generation came from coal, down from the share a decade ago, when coal routinely fueled more than nine-tenths of generation. Most electric generating capacity built recently in Utah has been fueled by natural gas, and one-fifth of 2015 net generation came from natural gas. The remainder of Utah’s net electricity generation comes from hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass energy. Utah ranks below two-thirds of the states in its per capita consumption of electricity. Electricity is the primary fuel for home heating in about one in eight Utah households. The commercial sector consumes the most electricity, but consumption is fairly evenly divided among that sector, the residential sector, and the industrial sector. Utah’s retail electricity prices are among the lowest one-fifth of the states.
Utah generates more electricity than it consumes, and the state is a net power supplier to other states. Utah’s largest generating station, which was constructed to deliver the majority of its output to California, is operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Some generating plant operators are switching from coal to natural gas to comply with California’s emission laws for power brought into California. Utah’s state energy plan anticipates that natural gas will be the fuel of choice for new electricity generation to replace coal and to back up intermittent renewables. High-capacity transmission is being built to bring conventional and renewable power from Wyoming and Utah to Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and California, as well as to enhance reliability of delivery within Utah.
Utah has no nuclear power plants, but it does have the only operating uranium ore mill in the United States. The mill processes ore from underground mines in the Four Corners area where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. Utah experienced a boom in uranium mining during the Cold War, but mines were closed when U.S. demand dropped. The state is believed to have significant uranium resources left, and several mining permit requests are pending. The state’s 10-year strategic energy plan keeps open the option of building nuclear electricity generation in the future.
Utah’s natural gas production, concentrated in the Uinta Basin, accounted for about 1% of U.S. output in 2015. Production rose from the middle of the last decade to peak in 2012, partly because of production associated with the increasing numbers of wells drilled for natural gas liquids and crude oil. Production of natural gas has decreased since 2012 in response to low market prices and reduced crude oil drilling. Coalbed methane—natural gas produced from coal seams—has provided as much as one-third of Utah’s natural gas output but has been gradually declining from its 2002 peak. Coalbed methane now supplies less than one-tenth of Utah’s total natural gas production. Utah has about 2% of U.S. proved natural gas reserves. The state has 3 of the 100 largest U.S. natural gas fields, ranked by proved reserves.
Utah has the sixth largest number of public access CNG refueling stations in the nation.
Utah consumes a little more than half of the natural gas it produces. The industrial sector is Utah’s largest consumer of natural gas. The residential sector is a close second, with six in seven households using natural gas as their primary heating fuel. Utah’s state energy policy favors diversifying transportation fuels, including increased use of compressed natural gas (CNG). In 2016, Utah had the sixth largest number of public access CNG refueling stations in the nation.
Utah is crossed by a major transportation corridor for shipping natural gas from the Opal Hub in Wyoming and the Piceance Basin in western Colorado to markets in Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, and beyond. The Clay Basin facility, on the Utah-Wyoming border near Colorado, is one of the region’s largest underground storage facilities. More storage capacity is being developed in a salt formation in western Utah to provide market storage services on the interstate pipelines that form Wyoming’s Opal natural gas market hub.
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