Northwest electricity demand is gradually increasing; efficiency met most of the new demand in 2010 and 2011

Demand for electricity in the Northwest continues to recover from the recession of 2008, growing slowly but steadily by about 1.2 percent per year over last two years, according to an analysis by the Council. The Council analysis also shows that 81 percent of that increased demand — 516 out of 634 average megawatts — was met with improved energy efficiency, reducing the need for power from generating plants.

That means energy efficiency programs run by utilities to pay for measures such as insulation upgrades in homes and buildings, energy-efficient windows, lights, and motors, combined with energy savings from appliance standards and building codes, continue to have an effect on reducing energy consumption in the Northwest, as they have for the last 30 years — and at a cost that is one-third that of electricity from new generating plants. Over that time, the amount of improved energy efficiency in the Northwest equals the electricity demand of four cities the size of Seattle, saving ratepayers literally billions of dollars compared to what they would have spent in the absence of the efficiency improvements, and reducing emissions from power plants by billions of tons.

According to the analysis, which is part of the Council’s mid-term assessment of its 2010 Sixth Northwest Power Plan — the sixth regional energy plan the Council has issued — electricity loads should return to pre-2008 levels by 2014. The current recession began in 2008-09.

"In the Power Plan we set goals for the region to meet a little over 60 percent of the new demand for power in 2010 and 2011 with energy efficiency, so this analysis demonstrates that the region is doing far better than we expected," Council Chair Joan Dukes said. "Our analysis also shows that the investment in energy efficiency has not caused a big increase in electricity rates, and achieving that much efficiency with a minimal impact on rates is good news for the Northwest."

The slow but ongoing economic recovery is resulting from growth in several sectors, including durable-goods manufacturing, the information-technology industry, health care, and various technical services, according to the analysis. At the same time, growth is being slowed by continuing stagnation in construction, utilities, mining, transportation, and real estate. Also, there is an ongoing shift from energy-intensive industries such as metals manufacturing to industries that use comparatively less energy, such as high-tech manufacturing and data centers for internet service providers.

Regional energy use was about 3 percent lower in 2011 than the pre-recession level of 2008, but has been recovering. Weather plays a role in energy demand — severe weather in 2008 boosted energy use even as the economy faltered, and mild weather in 2011 probably contributed to a slight decline for the year. The Council’s analyses are adjusted for weather impacts.

The Northwest Power and Conservation 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.