Energy Efficiency: The Key
by Sara Patton
ANALYSIS: replacing the power from four controversial dams on
the lower Snake River - still wouldn't raise the average electricity bill.
The Northwest's official electric power planning agency has confirmed, once again, that energy efficiency is the best and cheapest way to cover the next generation's electricity needs.
Every five years, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council produces a plan for meeting the next 20 years of electricity needs - a plan that guides the resource decisions of the Bonneville Power Administration and the public utilities that the BPA serves, and sets benchmarks for all of the region's utilities.
The just-approved Sixth Northwest Power and Conservation Plan says the region can and should meet the lion's share - 85 percent - of new power needs with energy efficiency costing far less than power from any new generating facility. Almost all the rest will be met with the new renewable energy already required by Northwest states.
No new coal plants. No net increase in the electric system's greenhouse gas emissions. And no increase - actually a reduction - in people's utility bills. Even though electric rates might rise a tad, the electricity savings will make our bills lower. We all pay bills, not rates.
So great are conservation's cost-savings that two actions analyzed but not part of the actual plan - shutting off enough coal power to meet state carbon-reduction laws and replacing the power from four controversial dams on the lower Snake River - still wouldn't raise the average electricity bill.
Our region now gets nearly a quarter of its electricity from coal plants in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. Those plants produce nearly nine-tenths of the regional power system's greenhouse gas emissions and the Council earlier concluded that the electricity sector cannot meet existing state and regional carbon-reduction targets without shedding almost all of its coal-fired power. The Sixth Plan, the Council stresses, will stabilize power system emission, but not lower them.
Meanwhile, commercial and sports fishermen and other salmon advocates believe successful salmon recovery will require some changes to the hydropower system, possibly including removal of the lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington. If the dams go, the system will have to replace about enough electricity to meet the needs of Seattle as well as some system backup services.
To help inform the region on the coal and salmon issues, the Council studied shutting off enough coal power (40 percent, or about 1,500 average megawatts) by 2020 to meet state requirements while also removing the four Lower Snake River dams. It found that even after meeting growing electric demand, after slashing coal use and after taking measures that may prove necessary for salmon survival, customers' bills still will go down.
How is that possible? It's all the energy efficiency: more efficient TVs, motors, lights, air conditioners, buildings and manufacturing. Saving energy is cheaper than any kind of generation. Council analysis shows that realizing the plan's energy efficiency goals -- targets consistent with the recent trend in utility achievement - will reduce average residential electricity about a tenth of a percent a year, even if we replace some of the power from dirty coal plants and the four Snake River dams.
Plus, the Council estimates that acquiring the energy efficiency in the plan will create 47,000 new green jobs for the region.
The Sixth Northwest Power and Conservation Plan points the way to a new clean-energy economy. Its goals are aggressive but well within reach. Efficiency achievements from building codes, appliance standards and utility programs have steadily risen over the last decade. We can, and will, get there.
Salmon, Water, Energy Policies Should be Considered Together by Sara Patton, The News Tribune, 8/26/9
Efficiency, Renewables Better than Gambling Anew on Nuclear by Sara Patton, The Seattle Times, 6/19/9
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs