Flagged Bill – SB 24: State Energy Policy Amendments; Senator Keith Grover

Senator Keith Grover

We start of this year’s “Flagged Bill” series with a bit of legislation that, more than anything else so far, piqued our interest upon first reading.

SB 24: State Energy Policy Amendments from Senator Keith Grover (Republican – Provo) does exactly what you would think it would do: add a few extra lines to Utah’s existing formal energy policy.

Currently, Utah’s policy states that it will promote the use of renewable, nonrenewable, and nuclear power as part of its energy production and distribution mix. SB 24 would add to this by adding into policy that students should learn about the policy while in school, that the state should actively seek more markets both domestically and internationally, and to look into “molten salt reactors (MSRs) [that are] producing medical isotopes.”

Now, K-12 education is relatively standard when it comes to promoting state policy. After all, it is in the state’s interest to make students interested in the various aspects of state policy if only because they will be the ones filling jobs when the time comes for them to do so. No, instead, I want to focus on the requirements for international markets and MSR investments.

SB 24 asks the state to find ways to have “greater access to domestic and international markets for Utah’s resources, and advanced transmission systems.” This is actually legislative-speak for “Utah should be able to sell its ding-dang coal wherever it pleases and California can just butt out.” How do we know this? Well, former Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) said as much when the policy was first being discussed back in July.

“I still have a concern about the energy policy…One of the things we are running into is this issue that California…where they think that they can dictate what kind of energy we produce and send to their state.” Noel stated, adding that “we have the right to develop the energy that makes sense to our people in this state and not have people take the Commerce Clause and malign us with it like California has done.”

California, of course, arguably has the strictest air quality standards of any state, and it requires that buyers within its state purchase from cleaner sources whenever possible (read: not coal). Conservatives, such as Noel, don’t much care for California asserting its right as a state to decide its energy policy and instead claims that Utah’s right to sell fossil fuels is a more-gooder state right and hippie states like California had just better suck it up and deal. The founders, of course, foresaw such issues and inserted the Commerce Clause as a way for the federal government to intervene on such disputes. But, alas, state policy is the perfect place for harumphs to go around, and that is precisely what we are seeing with SB 24 on this point.

The second interesting tidbit to come from this potential policy change is that regarding MSRs. MSRs are not actually designed with energy production in mind – rather they are designed to produce materials necessary for nuclear medicine, they just happen to produce electricity as a byproduct.

Though MSRs work in theory, they are actually an unproven technology in practice. Interestingly, Utah is a prime state for their use if they become viable; two of the three main ingredients to make the reactor work, beryllium and lithium, can be found in mines near Delta and the West Desert salt flats, respectively. The third ingredient, thorium, is actually quite common and considered a waste product in modern mining operations.

Because of this, officials in Eastern Utah have taken an interest in developing the technology and infrastructure necessary to make a working Molten Salt Reactor – going so far as to try to invest community impact board funds received from the federal government to offset costs associated with deveoping and supporting MSRs. But, such proposals have become a source of controversy among state auditors, who note that these funds are generally used to improve communities by investing in parks, roads, and other infrastructure with a greater public impact.

Grover himself actually did not propose adding MSRs when the policy update was first discussed. Instead, the idea seemingly came out of the blue during the same July meeting by Representative Carl Albrecht (Republican – Richfield), a former energy CEO where nearly one in every five dollars of his 2018 campaign funds came from the energy sector.

Private interests dictating public policy is nothing new in politics, and MSRs might very well be an economic driver in Eastern Utah, but by formally inserting this untested technology into state policy, the citizens of Utah could be committing themselves to funding a risky endeavor that has already caught the eye of investigators for questionable funding mechanisms. This is not a sound way to direct Utah’s energy future and lawmakers would be wise to remove this section of the overall proposal.

To contact Senator Grover, Click Here or call 801-319-0170

You can track this, and all of our other flagged bills, by clicking here. Need an explanation of scores? Click Here.

Impact on the Average Utahn – 2 | Need for Legislation – 3 | Lemon Score – 4
Overall Grade – C-

One Reply to “Flagged Bill – SB 24: State Energy Policy Amendments; Senator Keith Grover”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.