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Report says Energy Needs Can Be Met While
Cutting Greenhouse Gases, Saving Salmon

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, March 19, 2009

Energy efficiency programs - along with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass generation plants - can boost power generation by 6,500 megawatts by 2020, a coalition of clean-energy advocates and environmental groups said in the report, which was released Wednesday.

For nearly the same price as alternatives such as natural gas, a clean energy program would create thousands of jobs and help the economies of both urban and rural Northwest communities, according to the report, which is titled "Bright Future."

Produced by the Northwest Energy Coalition, the Sierra Club, and Save our Wild Salmon, the report said the region could create enough new electricity to power 845,000 of today's homes for less than a penny a kilowatt.

And the programs could accomplish that while breaching four dams on the lower Snake River to save salmon and retiring 1,000 megawatts of coal power.

"Here in the Northwest, we're justly proud of clean energy tradition and innovation," said Northwest Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. "Now we have a real opportunity to make tomorrow's power system even cleaner than today's."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends a 15 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 and an 80 percent cut by 2050 to stop and begin to reverse the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which it says is causing global warming. That warming already is reducing the effectiveness of the region's hydroelectric dams and threatening to make much of its salmon habitat uninhabitable.

Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets about one-third of the electricity consumed in the region, doesn't support removing the four dams. But he applauded the report.

"We share the enthusiasm, particularly for aggressively pursuing conservation," Wright said. "We question, however, whether carbon reduction goals can be achieved at such low cost."

BPA sells the power produced from 31 federally owned dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries. About 20 percent of Idaho's electricity comes from the BPA, through rural electrical cooperatives and municipal utilities, such as the one in Idaho Falls.

Idaho Power, which provides the electricity for most of southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, depends on coal for up to half of its power supply in a low water year. Coal only accounts for a quarter of all of the power for the region that includes Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The power needs are just going to climb, the report said.

By 2050, the region will need to add another 19,100 megawatts - more than double its current usage - while retiring all of its coal fire plants in Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to meet the goal to reduce 80 percent of the greenhouse gases, the report said.

To get there, the groups recommend that the region set an annual goal of saving 340 megawatts a year through energy efficiency programs that give incentives to people and businesses to use less energy.

It also recommends that the Bonneville Power Administration set as its goal the development of 240 megawatts of renewable energy each year.

Wright suggested that the report's assumptions get tested through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a panel appointed by the four governors, which forecasts energy needs.

Related Sites:
Bright Future, Steven Weiss, NW Energy Coalition

Rocky Barker
Report says Energy Needs Can Be Met While Cutting Greenhouse Gases, Saving Salmon
Idaho Statesman, March 19, 2009

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