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Activists Push for Cleaner Northwest Energy

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 17, 2009

We often forget that despite all our hydropower, the Northwest gets nearly a quarter of its electricity from dirty coal plants. Those plants now account for nearly 90 percent of the power system's global-warming emissions. PORTLAND, Ore. -- The final public hearing on the latest Northwest regional power plan drew a much larger crowd than in the past, as activists continued their push for cleaner energy in the coming decades.

About 130 people came to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council hearing Wednesday in Portland, many with anti-coal signs or T-shirts.

The council's draft plan shows fossil-fueled power not growing over the next two decades, thanks largely to conservation and efficiency.

But activist groups want the council to go even farther in reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

The council, whose plans bind the Bonneville Power Administration and have far-reaching effects on utilities, revises its regional plan every five years.

Interest in the regional plan started to grow with the 2001 West Coast energy crisis, when electricity prices spiked, according to Mark Walker, the council's director of public affairs.

But he said hearings this year have been standing-room-only affairs across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana - the four states the council serves.

"When you put that on top of concerns people have with climate change and carbon emissions, it's a hot topic right now," Walker said.

Groups including the NW Energy Coalition and the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign brought people out to testify and offer support.

"The message came through loud and clear," Sierra Club spokeswoman Cesia Kearns said. "People don't want to wait any longer to address global warming, and they want groups like the council to address this."

But with four very different states to manage, the council may struggle to include strict carbon reduction goals in the final plan, said Steve Weiss, senior policy associate for the NW Energy Coalition.

The coalition is pushing to attach costs to carbon emissions. If power suppliers had to pay $47 per ton of carbon emissions, Weiss said, emissions would decrease 30 percent in the next 20 years.

"But that only happens if someone sets this price," he said.

The regional plan affects the BPA directly, Weiss added.

If the Portland-based federal power marketing agency were required to account for the carbon cost of power it purchases from wholesale brokers, it would result in more electricity coming from cleaner sources, Weiss said.

"If the plan said, `You've got to account for the cost of carbon,' that would pressure Bonneville to say, `Tell us the carbon content, and we're not going to buy it if it's too high,'" he said.

Associated Press
Activists Push for Cleaner Northwest Energy
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 17, 2009

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