Northwest on path to lead nation in maximizing energy efficiency as priority energy resource

Four-state bipartisan agreement calls for clean, low-cost competitive energy economy attracting high wage jobs and preserving superior quality of life and environment over twenty year horizon

Today the Northwest Power and Conservation Council members appointed by the Governors of the four Northwest states unanimously approved the Council’s Seventh Power Plan after conducting a 60-day public comment period (see blog post, 7th Plan page, and audio transcript).

The power plan springboards from a long history of leadership and success pioneering energy resource planning and cost-effective energy efficiency, and assures that the Northwest sustains its clean, low cost energy system into the future. By apportioning a greater percentage of its power resources to energy efficiency than any other state or comparable population base in the nation, and retaining and advancing the Northwest’s unmatched position as the nation’s cleanest low-carbon leader, the new plan positions the Northwest to compete economically in a low-carbon 21st Century.

The Council is unique in the nation by placing the cost of reducing energy usage (energy efficiency) on an equal footing with the cost of energy production so that saving energy is as much a measurable “resource” as energy generation. By this standard of evaluation, energy efficiency is by far the lowest-cost energy resource with the added benefit of being carbon-free.

The plan assumes that Northwest industrial output over the 20-year period will increase by 36 percent, from $125 billion to $170 billion, a striking increase in economic growth. The growth in electrical demand, including that resulting from industrial growth, can be satisfied by a more cost-effective and efficient electric power system anchored by continuing the region’s long-term commitment to energy efficiency, not the construction of new power plants.

By maximizing cost-effective energy efficiency, the plan projects that the region’s electricity loads can be maintained at the current level of about 20,000 average megawatts, sustaining a 20-year trend of low load growth. Since 1995, annual energy loads grew at an average rate of only 0.40 percent, thanks to the region’s investment in efficiency.

The projections upon which the plan was formulated are based on data and modeling assembled by a large team of experts representing a broad array of technical fields over a period of two years. An enormous challenge of the effort was to maintain the Northwest’s significant low-cost energy advantage while ensuring a highly reliable energy supply to reap the economic, social, and environmental rewards of a digital future in which the demand for electricity is projected to increase.

For example, the global information-communications system — dominated by “cloud-based” computer farms like the Google, Apple, and Facebook facilities in the Northwest — consumes as much electricity as the power production of Germany and Japan combined. This is as much electricity as was used to light the entire world 30 years ago. These facts provide a mere glimpse into the electricity demands of the future. Maintaining the region’s low-cost, low-carbon power system will help position the region to thrive upon opportunities presented by a global electricity-hungry future and attract desirable industries, academic institutions and medical research, sources of high paying jobs and magnets for skilled, educated workers.

Hydroelectric power generated in the Columbia River Basin will continue as the region’s core, carbon-free source of energy. Yet the Basin’s ecosystem and myriad economic contributions are equally as vital to the preservation and enhancement of the region’s quality of life. Energy efficiency will play an even greater role than it does today to minimize the energy burden on the river, thereby freeing it to yield maximum benefits for its other ecological and economic purposes even as future electricity needs increase.

The combination of the region’s legacy hydropower and ongoing energy efficiency investments has helped to make the Northwest’s power system the cleanest in the nation. Since 1978, the region has saved enough energy to light five cities the size of Seattle, and the latest plan builds on that success. Today, energy efficiency is the region’s second largest resource, saving consumers about $3.75 billion per year on electricity bills, and lowering annual carbon dioxide emissions by 22.2 million tons per year. By 2035, the cumulative amount of energy efficiency is estimated to be equal to 10,000 average megawatts or 72 percent of the average amount of hydropower generated in the Northwest, and 128 percent of just the federal Columbia River hydrosystem.

Additionally, the plan includes a detailed program to protect and enhance fish and wildlife affected by the hydroelectric system. The evolving resource strategies of previous 20-year plans, especially the energy efficiency measures, have allowed hydrosystem operators over time to embed reliable fish and wildlife operations into core dam operations while maintaining a power supply that is adequate, reliable, and affordable.

“By investing in energy efficiency at the levels recommended in the plan, we’ll be able to grow our economy without initiating an aggressive program to build new generating resources, and we’ll keep Northwest electricity rates low and maintain our quality of life,” said Council Chair Henry Lorenzen.

The Council is a compact of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington and is directed by the Northwest Power Act of 1980, a federal law, to prepare a power plan to assure the Pacific Northwest region an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply. The power plan includes a program to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin affected by hydropower dams.

For more information about the Council and the Seventh Power Plan go to www.nwcouncil.org.

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