Energy efficiency is the second largest resource in the Northwest, trailing only hydropower. A critical component of being a resource is knowing that the savings are real and can be counted on to meet our needs as reliably as water through the dam. That’s where evaluation and the role of the Regional Technical Forum comes into play.
The Northwest has had a long history of regional collaboration around power planning and promoting energy efficiency as a resource. In the earliest days of efficiency, many of the region’s programs were designed and evaluated at the Bonneville Power Administration. In the mid-1990s, there was a shift toward a decentralized approach, the rationale being that each market and utility service territory was unique, which would allow utilities to develop their own programs better tailored to their needs. With the benefits of flexibility, however, came concerns that a decentralized approach might reduce our ability to reliably and consistently quantify this resource. Out of this need, the Council and Bonneville created the RTF to fill that role for the region.
For the past 17 years, the RTF has been a key player helping utilities evaluate and verify energy efficiency opportunities. The RTF is 30 experts, with a variety of backgrounds, including program planning, implementation, and evaluation. As a body,the RTF weighs the facts and provides independent judgment on how much a utility can count on measures to reliably save energy. Having this group of outside experts analyzing data and making judgments on reliability eases the conversation between regulators and utilities. Regulators like it when utilities use RTF values and utilities save money because the RTF simplifies their evaluation of a measure.
The RTF isn’t a replacement for research. When the RTF determines that more data are needed to develop a reliable estimate, it will identify the data needs to guide future research. Ideally, this will lead to leveraging research from one utility to inform the regional estimate, helping limited research dollars go further.
Since 1978, the Northwest has saved over 5,800 average megawatts — enough to power five Seattles — meeting 57 percent of the region’s load growth over that period. As new opportunities to save energy emerge, the RTF will be there to help ensure that we’re accurately counting those savings.