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Energy Conservation:
Using Less To Do More

by Tom Karier, Guest Columnist
Seattle Times, August 23, 2005

Tom Karier</STRONG> is a Washington state member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Imagine two more cities right now in the Northwest the size of Seattle. Besides the obvious traffic problems, we would have serious problems providing electric power to meet the needs for those two cities. During normal times, the cost would be very expensive; and during periods of high energy prices, like 2001, the cost would be devastating to our state and regional economy.

Fortunately, megawatts for those two Seattle-size cities aren't needed because the Northwest invested wisely in energy efficiency over the past 20 years. Utilities, businesses, government and families bought 2,500 megawatts of energy efficiency, the annual equivalent of more than twice the current consumption of Seattle.

Those investments continue to generate valuable energy savings year after year without damaging the environment. Also, energy efficiency buffers our regional economy from potentially volatile fuel prices, as we've seen recently for natural gas.

In the future, we will need more of the same. The new "Fifth Northwest Electric Power and Conservation Plan," released by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, states that we are not done yet; there are at least another 2,500 megawatts of energy conservation to be secured over the next 20 years. With the help of the utilities in the region and with a little more effort by the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest federal power-marketing agency, we should be able to achieve this target.

Future conservation investments will take advantage of new technologies like compact fluorescent light bulbs, LED lighting, AC/DC converters for charging cellphones and more-energy-efficient appliances like clothes washers, refrigerators, water heaters and dishwashers. Less familiar but equally important are the breakthroughs we have made in commercial lighting for large retail outlets and industrial motors and pumps.

One of the few objections to conservation is that it costs a lot of money up front, which is true. But because it pays for itself in a very short time and quickly reduces overall energy costs, it is a smart investment for utilities and ratepayers. Conservation doesn't mean doing without, it means doing it cheaper. Because the cost of conservation -- averaging 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour -- is so much less than the cost of producing an equivalent unit of energy, it will save Northwest ratepayers billions of dollars over the next 20 years.

According to the council's power plan, we will need more than conservation. We will need all commercially viable wind sites developed in the Northwest, a program to buy down peak loads a few times every year, and a truly clean coal plant that gasifies the coal and sequesters the carbon, eliminating most of the harmful emissions. But a key to achieving this vision is securing the 2,500-megawatt target for conservation, and that means starting now.

In order to meet this goal, the region's utilities will need to step up and meet their share of the target. Some of these in our state, including Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light and the Snohomish Public Utility District, have already identified conservation goals that should meet or exceed their shares of the target set in the council's plan. All of these utilities have established professional operations capable of efficiently achieving these targets.

The council is less sanguine about the prospects for the Bonneville Power Administration. Bonneville should be commended for committing to its share of the council's future target and for its legacy of conservation over the past 20 years. Without its help, we would not have avoided those two Seattle-size loads. However, it is essential that Bonneville successfully meet its share of the target since it represents at least 40 percent of the Northwest electricity market.

Going forward, we will need the concerted efforts of all parties -- utilities, businesses, households and especially Bonneville -- to achieve the vision of a clean, low-cost and reliable power system.

Related Pages:
Council Identifies 2,800 aMW of Cost-Effective, Achievable Regional Conservation through 2025 by Mark Ohrenschall, Con.Web, 5/28/4
NPCC Analyses Look at NW Power Supply Columbia Basin Bulletin,3/5/4
Bullish on Conservation by Mark Ohrenschall , Con.Web 5/28/4

Tom Karier is a Washington state member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. These views do not necessarily represent those of the council. The council is an agency of the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, authorized by the Northwest Power Act of 1980.
Energy Conservation: Using Less To Do More
Seattle Times, August 23, 2005

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