Utah is at the forefront of innovation in developing clean energy generation, and it’s happening at a breakneck pace. From our clean energy utopia in central Utah to educating Utah’s future energy workforce, our state is leading the way to a cleaner and more renewable energy future. 

For all these advancements, Utah is still largely reliant on coal. More than 70% of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants located in rural Utah, and it will be at similar numbers for years to come. While coal-generated power fuels our modern life and helps make Utah an attractive place to live and do business, it does come with costs to our climate, air quality and environment. 

Completely abandoning the use of fossil fuels is not an option if we want to maintain our modern life, so it’s imperative we tackle the issue of their pollutants as soon as possible. 

So is there a way to use fossil fuels without emitting irresponsible amounts of CO2 into the air? The answer isn’t a yes or no — it’s carbon capture. Carbon capture works by doing exactly what it sounds like — it captures the CO2 emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, like coal, where it can then be safely stored thousands of feet underground or used in other capacities.

No U.S. coal plants by 2030? John Kerry makes bold prediction in Glasgow
Power play pits rural Utah concerns against Southern California

And the great thing about this technology is it can be retrofitted to existing facilities. Post-combustion carbon capture has the ability to capture over 90% of the CO2 emitted from power plants and industrial facilities, which would otherwise go straight into the air. 

As with all energy generation and technologies, carbon capture does have its challenges. The technology isn’t new, but it is expensive. According to the Department of Energy, today’s carbon capture technologies are so energy-intensive they may decrease the efficiency of a coal power plant by up to 30%, resulting in an 80% price increase in electricity. Additionally, advanced carbon capture technologies, which can help reduce cost, have never been demonstrated at scales large enough for power plants, so there are still some unknowns about the feasibility of such projects. 

View Comments

But these challenges aren’t insurmountable and can be overcome by businesses researching and investing in better and more affordable ways to capture carbon. Just like solar panels reaching levels of affordability with improvements in technology and manufacturing, carbon capture is expected to be more efficient and less costly as technologies improve. It’s also important to remember that we as a state are not interested in exclusively adopting carbon capture to solve our emissions-related problems. Other opportunities are also within reach that we should continue developing including wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, nuclear and hydrogen. 

Utah is not interested in just one of these technologies, we’re interested in all of them. We’re an all-of-the-above energy state, and it takes a combination of these technologies to meet our future energy needs. 

We must have a balanced, diverse approach to clean energy and that includes the use of fossil fuels, coupled with carbon capture. Carbon capture could be the breath of fresh air Utah is looking for as we transition our portfolios to include more clean and renewable energies. That diversity will bring security to our grid, and with Utah’s commitment to innovation unencumbered by government regulations, we are well-positioned to build a clean and reliable energy future. 

Thom Carter is energy adviser to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and executive director of the Utah Office of Energy.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.