Utah is vulnerable to increasing heat, melting snowpack, droughts, and wildfires
Utah’s climate is already changing. The state has warmed two degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. Utah can expect increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, reduced snowpack, reduced water availability and increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires.
- Increasing temperatures: The Southwest is already one of the driest and hottest regions in the US. Increasing temperatures will only exacerbate challenges already present such as heat waves, crop failure, drought, and reduced snowpack, posing increasing threats and costs to public health in Utah cities especially. A Risky Business report projects the number of days per year of temperatures at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will increase by 13 to 28 additional days by mid-century, and an additional 33 to 70 days by the end of the century. That’s one to two months of additional days of extreme heat for babies being born right now in this region.
- Melting Snowpack: Snowpack and streamflow are projected to decline in Utah, reducing the reliability of surface water for cities, farmers and ecosystems. Reduced water availability combined with increasing temperatures threaten crops and animal agriculture in Utah. The state has experienced early melt-off of snow in the valleys during winter, demonstrating how climate change is altering western winters. Early snow-melts could lead to severe water shortages in the state as over 80 percent of Wasatch Front’s water comes from snowmelt. Utah could stop being a skiing destination by the end of the century due to global warming.
- Wildfires: Climate change is exacerbating the ingredients that contribute to wildfires: heat, drought, and dead trees. These are expected to increase wildfires in Utah. From 2003 to 2012, Utah ranked seventh of 11 western states in number of wildfires and eighth in the area burnt. Going forward, wildfire management is expected to cost the state about $86.6 million.
- Pests: Warmer, drier conditions make forests more susceptible to pests because trees are less able to fend off attacks. The bark beetle, for example, has infested 50,000 acres in Utah.
- Adaptation: Utah has not developed a statewide climate adaptation plan.
Utah residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 63% of Utah residents recognize that global warming is happening. The project finds that 67% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 79% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
Utah is leading in solar and geothermal
- Utah rank 2nd in installed solar capacity with 1,526 MW installed in total. The solar industry employs 4,400 people across 108 companies across the value chain.
- Wind power can help Utah meet its renewable energy goals while creating economic development. Currently the state ranks 27th in the nation for wind generation, with 391 MW of capacity installed. That’s enough to power 76,000 homes.
- Utah passed a voluntary renewable portfolio goal in 2008 which encourages utilities to generate 20% of their electricity sales from renewable sources by 2025. In 2015, 4.6% of net electricity generation came from geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric power sources. Utah ranked second in the nation in utility-scale net electricity generation from geothermal energy in 2015
- Utah produced 1.8% of U.S. coal in 2014 and shipped 30% of that production out of the state, of which just over half was exported.
- In 2015, coal produced less than 76% of Utah’s net electricity generation and natural gas produced 19%; in 2005, coal produced 94% and natural gas, 3%. State planners expect the natural gas share to continue rising as older coal units are shut down.
- Utah had the ninth lowest average electricity prices in the nation in 2015.
- About 90% of the energy Utah consumes comes from outside the state.