Conservation Efforts Will Play Key Role
by Matthew Presch
The Northwest should meet most of its electricity needs over the next two decades through extensive energy conservation efforts, and it's going to take more than just changing light bulbs.
That's the conclusion of a regional power blueprint the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that was unanimously approved Wednesday morning at council headquarters in downtown Portland. It focuses on the benefits of efficiency over building new power plants.
"For customers, it's a good thing in that it's very clearly saying the direction the region should go in terms of power supply is first and foremost energy efficiency," said Bob Jenks, director of the Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon.
The plan estimates about 85 percent of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana's new power demand over the next 20 years - about 5,900 megawatts - could be met through conservation, with the rest coming from new renewable power sources like wind, as well as natural gas power plants.
The council says finding additional power through efficiency will be far cheaper than developing new power generation, whether from renewable sources like wind or traditional fossil fuel power plants.
"That's good for the climate, and it's good for pocket books," Jenks said.
Significantly, the council says the region does not need to build any new coal-fired plants to power our iPods, ovens and electric cars.
But while efficiency is cost effective, it's not free. The council estimates spending would need to step up from a quarter of a billion to $1 billion a year by 2018 to accomplish its efficiency goal. Those expenditures would show up as part of customers' electricity bills.
That and the ambitious scope of the plan led to some pushback from the region's electric utilities.
"That money is going to come from ratepayers, and that puts upward pressure on rates," said Michael Early, executive director of Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities. "And that's not something utilities want to do in this economic environment," when demand for power is not growing.
Council members praised the plan Wednesday for taking into account a future that includes strict regulation on carbon dioxide emissions from coal and other traditional power sources.
"Because carbon penalties loom in one form or another and uncertainty about those penalties abounds, the region can see the day when carbon emissions must be reduced," Melinda Eden, one of the two council members from Oregon, said following the vote.
The plan's estimated 5,900 megawatts of conservation - the rough equivalent of the power-producing capacity of 10 coal plants like Portland General Electric's Boardman facility - would come through things like homeowners increasing insulation at their homes and business refitting their buildings with power-saving lights, as well as more complex improvements to the grid that distributes power around the region.
Utilities will take the plan into account when setting their own strategies for meeting the future demand of their customers. More directly, council policy guides the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that sells electricity from the region's dams.
The council and Bonneville are charged with balancing power needs with protecting imperiled salmon, and critics of the power agency say the council's analysis shows the region can do away with 4 of its 31 dams to help fish without jeopardizing its energy future.
The unanimous passage of the plan comes after years of debate between council members and input from utilities and citizens' groups.
Following Wednesday's vote, Terry Morlan, the council's director of power planning, compared those deliberations to the television reality program Survivor.
There were victories and defeats, he said, "and some of us were almost voted off the island."
Power from Nothing: Energy Plan Stresses Conservation by Don Jenkins, The Daily News, 10/25/9
New Power Plan is Good Start, But Needs to Attack Coal Plants by Beres & Patton, Seattle Times, 9/27/9
NW Power Panel: Save Juice, Build Fewer Plants by Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/3/9
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