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Economic and dam related articles

Energy Efficiency in 2008 Reduced
Electricity Demand Equal to 148,000 Homes

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 6, 2009

Improved efficiency reduced demand for electricity in the Northwest in 2008 by an amount equal to the power use of about 148,000 homes, the highest annual accomplishment since recordkeeping began 30 years ago, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The 2008 efficiency improvements -- energy conservation -- totaled 234 average-megawatts (an average-megawatt, a unit of electricity measurement, is 1 million watts delivered continuously for a year). That is equal to the output of an average-size natural gas-fired power plant.

Efficiency improvements have a cost, but it is lower than the cost of building new power plants. In 2008, the average cost of efficiency for the region's electric utilities was just $20 per megawatt-hour (2 cents per kilowatt-hour), or approximately one-fifth the cost of power from a new generating plant fueled by either natural gas or wind. Total spending by the region's electric utilities to achieve the improved efficiency was $251 million or just 2.2 percent of regional retail electricity revenues.

"For 30 years the Northwest has been reducing demand for electricity through investments in energy efficiency, proving that efficiency is a viable resource to use in conjunction with generating plants to meet our future demand for power," Council Chair Bill Booth said. "The 2008 results show that utilities recognize the value of efficiency as an inexpensive, effective electricity resource, and on behalf of the Council I congratulate them and the Bonneville Power Administration for this impressive accomplishment."

Most of the savings -- about 140 average megawatts or 59 percent of the total -- occurred in homes, and most of those savings came from replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. Commercial buildings were the second-largest area of efficiency gains, 49 average megawatts or 21 percent of the total. Lighting improvements were a significant share of the total in that sector, too. Industrial efficiencies accounted for 35 average megawatts or 15 percent of the total.

The 2008 achievements bring the region's total efficiency gains, 1978 to 2008, to 3,900 average-megawatts (2,400 from electric utility programs, and 1,500 from building codes and standards). This means enough power has been saved over the last 30 years to equal the present-day electricity use of four cities the size of Seattle.

The 2008 efficiency numbers were compiled by the Council from individual utility reports. These reports are posted on the website of the Regional Technical Forum, the Council's conservation-advisory group,.

Energy efficiency is at the heart of the Council's Draft Sixth Northwest Power Plan, which is available for public comment through November 6. The plan estimates demand for electricity over the next 20 years and recommends power conservation and generation resources to meet the new demand. The Council revises the plan every five years.

Energy efficiency is the preferred resource to meet new demand for power under the Northwest Power Act of 1980, the federal law that authorized the four Northwest states to create the Council. The Council's power plan provides direction to the federal Bonneville Power Administration, the region's largest electricity supplier. Electric utilities also use the Council's plan and analyses to help devise strategies to meet their own demand growth.

In the draft power plan, the Council proposes to meet most of the new demand for electricity over the next 20 years with energy efficiency, plus renewable power and a small amount of power from new natural gas-fired generating plants. A key challenge for the region will be the pace of acquiring energy efficiency. The draft plan proposes that the region acquire more than 200 average-megawatts per year, similar to the achievements in 2007 and 2008. The draft plan also calls for an assessment in mid 2012, two and a half years into the draft plan's action plan for the first five years, to see if the annual targets should be adjusted.

The Council's analysis has found that sustaining high levels of investment in improving efficiency, even when wholesale electricity prices are low, reduces both long-term cost and mitigates against the kind of higher prices caused by spikes in the cost of natural gas or as the result of the cost of reducing carbon emissions from power plants that burn coal or natural gas. Accelerating investments in energy efficiency will reduce the need over time to rely on increasingly expensive power from those other sources, according to the draft plan.

The Council is an agency of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington and is directed by the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to prepare a program to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin affected by hydropower dams while also assuring the region an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply.

Energy Efficiency in 2008 Reduced Electricity Demand Equal to 148,000 Homes
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 6, 2009

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