Northwest energy efficiency improvements set a new one-year record last year

In 2011, the Pacific Northwest set a new annual record for energy efficiency improvements -- and did so for one-fourth the cost of power from the most efficient new generating plants, according to a Council survey of the region’s electric utilities.

In 2011, the Northwest developed 277 average megawatts of new energy efficiency -- expressed as electricity, enough for 188,000 Northwest homes.

"These investments are paying off for Northwest electricity consumers, who benefit more than consumers elsewhere in the country," Council Vice Chair Bill Bradbury said.

With the developments in 2011, electric energy efficiency in the Northwest has improved by more than 5,000 average megawatts since the investments began in 1978, an amount that today would power all of Idaho and Montana. Because the improved efficiency means the same amount of electricity did not have to be generated, at much higher cost, the efficiency saved the region’s electricity consumers nearly $3.1 billion in 2011 alone.

"Clearly utilities recognize the value to their customers and the region of low-cost, zero-emission energy efficiency," Bradbury said. "At less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, efficiency is a great complement to more expensive power from new generating plants as our demand for electricity grows."

The survey was conducted by the Regional Technical Forum, an advisory committee established by the Council in 1999 to develop standards to verify and evaluate regional energy-efficiency savings. The Forum’s 2011 survey included investor-owned utilities, the Bonneville Power Administration and its customer public utilities, the Energy Trust of Oregon, and associations representing groups of utilities. The 277-average-megawatt total was a new annual record, besting the Council’s target for the year in its Northwest Power Plan, 220 average megawatts, by 26 percent. Development of new energy efficiency has exceeded the Council’s annual targets every year since 2005.

In 2011, the biggest energy efficiency gains were in commercial buildings and industrial facilities. This indicates that the primary area of savings is shifting away from the pattern of recent years when the largest new savings were in residences, primarily through installation of more efficient lights.

The total regional investment in energy efficiency in 2011 was about $420 million, according to the survey. That amount represents 8 percent of the total national spending on energy efficiency in 2011 ($5.23 billion), for a region that represents about 5 percent of the nation’s population.

While the region’s progress in 2011 was remarkable, 2012 and future years may not see the same gains. The Council anticipates efficiency improvements in 2012 will be about 10 percent lower than in 2011 as the result of reduced spending by Bonneville and utilities, reductions in federal funding for energy efficiency programs under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the end of some state tax incentives for efficiency investments.

However, at the same time there will be no lack of new efficiency available. The Council estimates cost-effective efficiency improvements totaling more than 4,400 average megawatts are available in the Northwest through the year 2030, the end of the Council’s current 20-year planning horizon.

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.