It’s a lot cheaper to squeeze extra electricity from energy efficiency than it is to build new power plants, according to a regional energy group, and meeting those efficiency goals will be key to achieving President Barack Obama’s ambitious new Clean Power Plan to dramatically cut carbon emissions.
That’s the message from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a four-state collaborative body created by Congress in 1980 to provide long-range regional power planning.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Oct. 20 released its updated Northwest Power Plan, a document analyzing regional power supplies and providing guidance for the federal Bonneville Power Administration and electric utilities in the region for the coming two decades.
Even in the hydropower-rich Pacific Northwest, it’s not possible to have a carbon-free electric power system using today’s technology, according to the plan, which pegs the cost of even getting close at an additional $20 billion for electricity ratepayers over the next 20 years.
Instead, the region should aggressively develop energy efficiency plans.
If the resource strategy in the draft plan is implemented, the region will meet the new carbon dioxide emissions limits, will remain efficient and affordable, and lowers the probability that any new generating plants will be needed before at least 2021, according to the plan.
“Meeting the energy efficiency goals in the draft power plan will reduce electricity bills over time for consumers as well as help keep the regional power supply adequate, reliable, and low-carbon,” Phil Rockefeller, the council chair, stated.
The most recent plan, the seventh since the council was formed, comes on the heels of the EPA’s final nationwide rule on carbon emissions, which says Montana must reduced emissions by up to 47 percent by 2030.
And while the Northwest Power and Conservation Council is a regional advisory council, and not a state regulatory body, it says the region as a whole could easily meet the reduced emission targets by following its plan.
“And that is because of energy efficiency,” said Montana council member Pat Smith. “Electricity is a basic necessity, and the bottom line is that energy efficiency is really good for the pocketbook and consumers, but it poses challenges for the local utilities.”
Those utilities are based on a business model that succeeds based on high use, and with efficiency increasingly dominating the national and global energy conservation, they are scrambling to adapt.
In the Pacific Northwest, the region for decades had the luxury of meeting peak demand with the country’s largest hydropower system, with that system maxed out, future resources must be developed to contribute to the system’s peak needs.
Since the council was formed 30 years ago, the region has saved an estimated 5,900 megawatts through conservation, relying on more efficient equipment, insulation, heating, cooling and lighting at both homes and businesses.
That’s enough electricity to serve five cities the size of Seattle, Smith said.
“It has saved us tens of billions of dollars,” he said.
In 2012 alone, energy efficiency, as well as thermal and renewable resources, saved consumers in the region between $1 and $3 billion.
The resource strategy is heavy on energy efficiency and light on fossil fuel, and calls for developing about 4,500 average megawatts of new efficiency by 2035.
The retirement of three coal plants west of Montana, in combination with developing energy efficiency, demand response, and increased use of existing natural gas plants, will reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions from the 2000-2012 average of 55 million metric tons to 34 million.
The proposed plan indicates that more than 90 percent of the additional power needed over the coming 20 years can be met by conservation measures at a cost less than that of building new gas- or coal-fired power plants.
The council has launched a 60-day public comment period on the plan, which it revises the plan every five years. The draft plan is available at www.nwcouncil.org.
Eight public hearings are scheduled around the Northwest in November and December. On Nov. 9, a meeting at the Flathead Electric Cooperative in Kalispell begins at 6:30 p.m.