Gov. Herbert celebrates alternative fuels awareness, showcases clean vehicles

The Governor’s Office of Energy Development and other groups came together Monday at the Utah State Capitol to voice support for the state moving forward with development of cleaner forms of energy and celebrate Utah’s 11th Alternative Fuels Awareness month.

“It is important to diversify transportation fuels, build transportation infrastructure and a fleet of alternative fuel vehicles in order to reduce air pollution and improve air quality, and to save energy and preserve national resources,” reads Gov. Gary Herbert’s declaration.

Dr. Laura Nelson, executive director of the Office of Energy Development, presented a report examining how alternative fuel vehicles can “strengthen our state’s energy resilience and emergency planning through greater collaboration, education and adoption of alternative fuels.”

The proposals and advancements announced Monday are part of Utah’s Energy Action Plan to 2020, an effort by the governor’s office that, in part, aims to address the state’s poor air quality and inversion along the Wasatch Front.

In Utah and Salt Lake counties, air quality in the winter can reach “unhealthy” and “hazardous” levels on the Air Quality Index.

Several “green” vehicles were parked outside the capitol steps and showcased for the public, including a zero-emission natural gas-powered Ford Explorer designed by ReFuel Energy Partners, a New Flyer Industries all-electric transit bus, a duel-fuel service truck and a natural gas-powered Ace Recycling and Disposal dump truck.

In 2016, Utah ranked as the 8th highest state in electric car sales, with almost 1% of new car sales being of electric vehicles, according to a “Clean Energy Momentum” report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Utah Transit Authority executive director Carolyn Gonot said that the public transit company currently operates 54 electric-hybrid buses, three fully electric buses and 47 powered by natural gas. She added that UTA has reduced emissions from its bus fleet by more than three quarters since 2008.

“As UTA continues to incorporate clean technologies and people choose to ride transit, the air pollution savings per trip will only continue to increase,” Gonot said.

The Utah Clean Cities Coalition, a group that works with local leaders to reduce the use of petroleum in the transportation sector, announced that it would advance two United States Department of Energy clean vehicle projects, one that would transition Zion National Park shuttles from propane-powered to electricity-powered and another that would support electric vehicle markets throughout the rural Intermountain West.

The two initiatives are projected to generate over $3 million in revenue for the state over the next three years, according to a Utah Clean Cities Coalition press release.

Another way the state can achieve greater air quality is through providing consumers with sustainable fuel options. Nelson from the Office of Energy Development said that said there are currently 941 gas stations in the state that offer alternative fuels or electric charging stations.

Dr. David M. Christensen, executive director of Utah State University’s Sustainable Electrified Transportation Center, which partners with out-of-state colleges to research sustainable vehicle options, spoke about the center’s growth since its formation in 2016.

“What began as five university partners and a dozen faculty members (has expanded) to 13 core and affiliated university members with more than 40 researchers with globally recognized expertise across sectors in the electric transportation ecosystem,” Christensen said.

The accumulation of these initiatives will contribute to Utah’s “economic and environmental success,” Herbert said in his declaration.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.