Efficiency can Help Northwest
by Ted Sickinger
The new plan envisions the Northwest actually using less power in 10 years
than it does now, even as the population rises, he said.
The Northwest can meet 85 percent of its new electricity needs over the next 20 years solely through conservation, and do so at half the cost of building power plants, according to the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Council.
That's a radical concept in an industry that typically meets growing demand by adding new production. Yet by all indications at the state and federal levels, energy efficiency's day has arrived. In the draft of the 20-year energy policy blueprint that the advisory council is slated to vote on today, it's at the top of the region's shopping list.
"This plan is all about energy efficiency," said Tom Eckman, the council's manager of conservation resources. "In the next decade, that's it. That's where the action is."
The power planning council was created by Congress in 1980 as a vehicle for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana to coordinate energy policy and manage the Columbia River hydro system. Every five years, it delivers an updated power plan that details how utilities in the region can guarantee consumers adequate and reliable energy at the lowest economic and environmental cost.
BPA, which funds the council and serves 147 consumer owned utilities, is required to make resource decisions consistent with the plan. Investor-owned utilities such as Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp aren't bound by it, but the plan is certainly a point of comparison as state regulators review their resource plans.
The council's sixth power plan foresees regional utilities acquiring up to 1,400 megawatts of energy efficiency in the next five years -- enough to power Seattle and then some -- and 5,800 megawatts by 2030. Over 20 years, that's equivalent to about one quarter of the energy used in the region today, or about 85 percent of the projected demand growth over that time.
About half of those energy savings are residential -- from water heating, insulation, heat pumps and more efficient consumer electronics. Another 40 percent is commercial and industrial, from lighting, heating and more efficient operations.
The council estimates that conservation measures will cost less than half as much as building conventional power plants, and come carbon-free, a big plus as global warming legislation gathers momentum in Congress. The rest of the region's new energy needs could be met primarily by wind farms, geothermal and some investments in gas-fired power plants by individual utilities such as Oregon's largest, Portland General Electric.
Regardless of the utility, achieving the power council's goals will require regional utilities to double or triple their investments in energy efficiency programs -- investments on which they earn no return for shareholders, and which reduce demand for their core product. While that would raise rates in the short term, the council predicts energy bills will go down in the long run as customers use less energy.
Future benefits could also include job creation and economic stimulus.
"Even if you don't care about climate change, on an energy basis alone, this is the right thing to do," Eckman said.
The council's plan doesn't represent a complete consensus. Environmentalists say the plan is weakened because it doesn't contemplate a coal-free future or specifically account for future carbon costs.
The plan is also an aggregation of all the region's utilities, and doesn't account for individual needs. PGE's preferred resource plan, for example, includes two new gas plants, a major outlay on wind farms and significant investments in pollution controls to keep its largest coal plant operating.
PGE plans larger investments in energy efficiency, and could meet much of its demand growth that way. But the utility also is losing long-term hydropower contracts, and says it needs to replace those with resources that are available around the clock.
The council is scheduled to vote on the power plan today and the draft plan will be open to public comment for 60 days before a final plan is issued in December.
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