The electricity needs of Northwest states can be met in the next 20 years mostly through conservation efforts, with little need to construct new power plants, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council predicted.
The Portland, Oregon,-based council recently issued its 20-year plan for meeting the energy needs of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
“By investing in energy efficiency at the levels recommended in the plan, we’ll be able to grow without initiating an aggressive program to build new generating resources, and we’ll keep Northwest electricity rates low,” Council Chairman Henry Lorenzen said in a statement the week of Feb. 8.
However, some utilities might have to build new power plants to help integrate inconsistent natural resources such as wind power into the grid, the council said.
The council recommended programs that would pay some electricity consumers to voluntarily refrain from power use during times when power is in short supply. The 20-year plan accounts for planned closures of coal-powered plants in Washington, Oregon and Nevada that help supply power to the region. It also seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 33 percent from historical levels.
The Northwest Energy Coalition lauded the plan, saying conservation is “the region’s second-largest energy resource after hydropower.”
“Calling for no new natural gas plants for at least the next decade and beginning to acknowledge the full extent and expense of coal power consumed in the region … are important victories,” the coalition said.
But the power council failed to properly study removing four dams on the Snake River to benefit wild salmon runs, the coalition said.
Members of the power council, two from each state, are appointed by the governors. They unanimously approved the latest power plan after conducting a 60-day public comment period.
“The new plan positions the Northwest to compete economically in a low-carbon 21st Century,” the council said.
The plan assumes that Northwest industrial output over the 20-year period will increase by 36 percent, from $125 billion to $170 billion.
The plan projects that the region’s electricity loads can be maintained at the current level of about 20,000 average megawatts. Since 1995, annual energy loads grew at an average rate of only 0.40 percent, thanks to the region’s investment in efficiency.
That’s even though the region has seen some huge energy users appear. For instance, “cloud-based” computer farms like the Google, Apple, and Facebook facilities in the Northwest consume as much electricity as the power production of Germany and Japan combined.
Maintaining the region’s low-cost, low-carbon power system will help attract desirable industries, academic institutions and medical research, sources of high paying jobs and magnets for skilled, educated workers, the plan said.
Hydroelectric power generated in the Columbia River Basin will continue as the region’s core, carbon-free source of energy.
Energy efficiency is the region’s second largest resource, saving consumers about $3.75 billion per year on electricity bills, and lowering annual carbon dioxide emissions by 22.2 million tons per year, the plan said.