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Utah Business

During our monthly roundtable event, leaders gathered to discuss Utah energy innovation and a plan for the future.

A conversation about energy innovation in Utah

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s energy leaders. Moderated by Thom Carter of the Utah Office of Energy Development, they discussed how Utah’s energy industry is adapting to political and market pressures, the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead, and why infrastructure and education are crucial to our state’s energy future. Here are a few highlights from the event.  

Have political pressures from the federal government, as well as market pressures, encouraged you to adapt? If so, how?

Blair Blackwell | Corporate Affairs Manager | Chevron Salt Lake Refinery

There’s no question that we’re being forced to adapt. We’re seeing a lot of those initial efforts as a California-based company. Chevron, Delta, and Google are coming together around sustainable aviation fuel and actually putting new feedstocks into our Fluid Catalytic Cracker in El Segundo—which is the refinery that then supplies Delta out of California—and having Google track the entire life cycle of greenhouse emissions on that. Last week we announced an intention to take an equity stake in ACES Delta, which is the green hydrogen project that Mitsubishi and Magnum Development have been working on. We see that there’s a real power and possibility with hydrogen.

Josh Brown | Director of Government Affairs | Rio Tinto

The interesting political challenge is that mining is [being seen as something that needs to be] eliminated. There’s a failure in understanding that [everything we consume] is either grown or mined before we use it. So as copper tends to be needed for the electrification of the future, there should be a pretty large discrepancy in copper available versus copper needed to meet these goals. Because of this, we need to mine sustainably, smarter, and more efficiently, but copper mining needs to continue—and actually needs to increase—to meet the needs of this future electrification. I think there’s a lot of education underway helping legislators on both sides understand that for this electrification to occur, sustainable miners need to be able to get through the regulatory hurdles in a timely fashion to bring these mines to fruition.

Brad Shafer | State Government Affairs Manager | Marathon Petroleum Corporation

California is where we kind of see a lot of these policies that are nudging us in [a greener direction]. And as long as policymakers aren’t picking winners and losers, we can all compete. Our business exists to provide transportation fuels and right now, crude oil is kind of the dominant feedstock, just because of its availability. But we actually look at ourselves as agnostic in terms of the product that we put in at the front end because what we’re concerned about is what comes out of the back end. So, we’re taking soybeans and rendered fats to produce renewable diesel.

During our monthly roundtable event, leaders gathered to discuss Utah energy innovation and a plan for the future.

As the governor likes to point out, when growth precedes infrastructure, we fail. But when infrastructure precedes growth, we succeed. How can we ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to be successful? 

Jeff Peterson | Executive Director | Utah Rural Electric Cooperative Association 

Because we serve such rural areas, it’s very common for us to have entire counties or communities that are radial-fed—there’s basically just one line going out. We have people get frustrated sometimes because they see a power line and say, “Why can’t you just put this additional load onto it?” I tell people it’s like a garden hose and the hose can only handle so much flow and pressure. And if you want to increase that, you really need to get a bigger hose. In other words, we need to build the infrastructure up to accommodate the future of electric vehicles in rural areas. It’s harder for us to justify the cost of some of these things because we just don’t have the penetration from the electric vehicle demand yet to pencil out that cost. From our perspective, we would need a little bit of assistance from the state and federal governments to get that going.

Brett Brown | Manager of Operations | Dominion Energy

Infrastructure is, in a way, tied to electric demand. There are more and more power plants running on natural gas, and we’re looking for ways in which we can help accommodate that. We’re in the process of doing a three-phase project, bringing a 20-inch line back into the St. George area over the next three years to be able to make sure that we’re there for that infrastructure.

Additionally, we have a rural expansion program to try and accommodate rural Utah, and we’ve proposed to the Public Works Commission for support to run to Green River. We’ve already sought permission to extend service to Eureka and also to Goshen. We’re under construction for Eureka right now, and we’ll be finished with that before the end of the year. We’ll be starting for Goshen in 2022, and then we’ll be running to Green River in 2023. So that infrastructure is alive and well, and we’re doing our best to try and look in the crystal ball and be prepared for the demand that is coming. 

Adam Seuss | VP, Government Relations | Sinclair Oil Corporation

I think building and repairing existing roads and bridges, upgrading airports, 5G and other things are, of course, appropriate. I want to be explicitly clear that Sinclair Oil is not anti-wind or solar. The problem is mandates, taxpayer funding, and a lack of seriousness about the plan and the approach. If you think about the oil and gas industry from production all the way to retail, the economic effect on GDP is astounding. The amount of jobs that the industry supports, directly and indirectly, is astounding. 

Blair Blackwell | Corporate Affairs Manager | Chevron Salt Lake Refinery

How do we make affordable, reliable, ever-cleaner energy, and how do we do it safely? There have been hundreds of millions of dollars invested over the last several years on that front. If you look at the Chevron strategy, you’ll see that rather than going into investments in wind and solar, we’re really focused on areas where we have infrastructure and expertise. Whether that’s putting electric vehicle charging ports at some of our stations or adding one of the first compressed natural gas stations to a Chevron in California, we are looking to build that out down the line, and we’re even seeing a couple of hydrogen stations going in right now. It’s about using the infrastructure that we already have to bring the fuels of the future to the customer. 

During our monthly roundtable event, leaders gathered to discuss Utah energy innovation and a plan for the future.

What do you want readers to know about your industry, your company, and the ways Utah is looking forward to a new energy future?

Scott Thompson | Founder & CEO | DiVi Energy

From my perspective, I want readers to understand that they may have an opportunity to do something themselves. If someone reading this article is a business owner or owns a facility, there are things that they can do right now to participate and become more energy-efficient and become part of the solution rather than the problem. Rocky Mountain Power has amazing incentives right now for retrofitting facilities. The state has grant money available for infrastructure upgrades and for electric vehicle charging stations. There are ways and means to get this done and to get these projects completed. Even though we have challenges when it comes to the big picture and the infrastructure issues that are at hand, there are still things that can be done every day to move the meter.

Josh Brown | Director of Government Affairs | Rio Tinto

We’re in an unprecedented time with climate change. The fuel, mining, and power industries are very much in tune with what’s going on and are working to find long-term solutions, reduce carbon footprints, and help the nation and the state succeed and go forward. There’s a huge opportunity for the state to be better educated on the entire process. There’s an opportunity to help educate the next generation on what it takes to have your cell phone, your vehicles, and your lights come on every time you flip the switch. The process takes a lot of individuals, a lot of industries, and a lot of working steps that need to be maintained. The better we can educate, the better we can find long-term solutions.

Brad Shafer | State Government Affairs Manager | Marathon Petroleum Corporation

Utah [is fortunate to be an] energy exporter. We do not rely on energy imports. We have our own crude supply here. We have access to crude in neighboring states. We have a refining center between here and Wyoming that supplies this market. 

From Marathon’s perspective, we welcome public policy, and we understand that public policy is a big driver of our world and regulation. All we really ask is that there’s a level playing field. And that when we do set public policy, there’s not an advantaged outcome. Our state and our country have worked fabulously when policymakers set goals and then allow the ingenuity and the creativity of the American economy to meet those goals.

Gary Swan | Senior VP, Chief Marketing Officer | National Energy Foundation

Don’t miss the forest for the trees―that’s our mission and energy literacy. Our goal is to help students and teachers understand the forest, understand the big picture, and understand how it all works together with the smaller details. We will continue to use that as a driver in how we design curriculum, how we present messages, and how we engage with educators in various parts of the country. 

Jon Cox | Vice President of Government Affairs | Rocky Mountain Power

Rocky Mountain Power is very excited about the energy future, and I think Utah should be very excited about its energy future. In electricity, Utah really is the Crossroads of the West. We have a western grid, and if you’re looking to move hydroelectricity from the northwest to the southwest, you’re coming through Utah. If you want to move wind from Wyoming to the West, you’re moving through Utah. Solar is coming from Utah and going elsewhere. It really is a place where commerce occurs. I’m encouraged by the growth we’ve seen over the last decade here, and I think the next decade is going to be even better.

During our monthly roundtable event, leaders gathered to discuss Utah energy innovation and a plan for the future.

Mekenna is the editor of Utah Business magazine and a graduate of the print journalism program at Utah State University. She has written about business, music and culture for publications like Business Insider, Time Out, SLUG Magazine, Visit Salt Lake and the Standard-Examiner. She loves hiking, thrifting, reading and going on camping trips with her partner in their 1986 Land Cruiser.