A year in review – 2020 at the Coalition

What a year it has been! There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2020 has been a challenging year. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted everyone’s life, caused severe economic hardship, and created an unprecedented health care trauma. The generosity and kindness in many of our communities is what brings people together and helps each other through these very hard times. In addition, the devastating violence and blatant racism on display this year shined an ugly light on the injustices that persist in our society. Fortunately, communities came together to protest and speak out for racial and social justice, challenging everyone to flex their power to challenge the status quo of white supremacy and demand racial justice.

During these uncertain and challenging times, Coalition staff joined community partners and members to ensure that utility services were not shut off. New payment options and additional bill assistance funds were identified and deployed, securing the availability of essential energy services during this public health crisis.

Coalition work is vibrant and active across the region. We have been focused on making sure the integration of smart and clean energy resources is done effectively, equitably, and is centered on maximizing the value and benefits of community, distribution, and customer resources.

End of Year Appeal: There is till time to give!

Without your membership, donations, and interest in our organization, we wouldn’t have been able to do our work. We are working hard to further investments that advance energy efficiency, renewable energy, storage and clean fuels, transportation electrification, consumer protection, and salmon recovery.

In the spirit of gratitude, we want to extend our appreciation for your support of our work and hope you will consider giving to the NW Energy Coalition before the year ends. We hope you and yours are safe during these challenging times and that 2021 will bring us closer to the equitable energy future we yearn for.

Organizational Announcements

Transitions can be challenging, yet they have the ability to open up exciting doors for fresh ideas. This past year we saw this through changes in positions and roles in our staff, board members, and member organizations.

On the staff side, Sean O’Leary departed as our Communications Manager, and we welcomed Paty Rincon into this role. Prior to joining the Coalition, Paty was a Project Manager at Kaiser Permanente where she managed communications across agencies. We also said goodbye to veteran Policy Director Wendy Gerlitz, who left for new challenges. We are excited to announce that Lauren McCloy will join the Coalition as our new Policy Director. Lauren comes to NWEC from Governor Inslee’s policy office.

The Coalition also saw three Board members depart and welcomed two new Board members – Bonnie Frye-Hemphill, Director of Policy and Partnerships at UMC, and Nic Nelson, Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United.

NWEC Board Chair, Ben Otto, stepped down from his role as Chair at the end of this year. We are grateful for his commitment to the Coalition and appreciate his leadership. Our new Board Chair is Shanna Brownstein, a long-time Board member. She currently works for Portland General Electric (PGE), and is focused on transportation electrification.

In addition, we welcomed 4 new member organizations and many individual members into the Coalition. Our new member organizations are: Coffman Engineers, Counterbalance Capital, Olympia Community Solar, FlexCharging, Inc. We are deeply appreciative of the continued engagement from existing members.

The combined support of staff, board, and members will continue to be crucial to our work. As we move into the new year, the Coalition will initiate an effort to create a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) commitment statement. In recent years, NWEC has begun to institutionalize JEDI principles into our work. We recognize that to truly incorporate equity, and immerse it into our organization, this will be an ongoing journey that needs constant attention and commitment. In 2021, the Coalition will continue this effort by bringing together members, board, and staff into a JEDI task force. Together, we will create a JEDI commitment statement, which will sync with our 2021 strategic planning process.

Outreach and Communication

We were busy engaging our membership via Zoom, hosting webinars on energy efficiency financing, resource adequacy, and delivering energy efficiency programs to vulnerable populations during the pandemic. We posted two significant articles in 2020 – Covid-19 Consumer Protection Updates – the last six months in the utility world and how it affects customers. Regional electric system and demand management make a difference during California heatwave – clean energy solutions will cover peak demand and protect salmon.

We heard from our community that there is a need for an acronym guide because in this industry there are so many acronyms! So, NWEC staff created a new resource, which you can now use to search for energy-related acronyms on our website here.

At the end of our Fall Membership meeting (click here for in-depth notes). NWEC presented a series of awards to organizations and individuals striving towards a clean energy future. Read about the 2020 recipients.

Programmatic Highlights for 2020

We centered our attention on implementation to ensure that big bold policy makes it through to fulfillment. As such we were deep in the regulatory and rulemaking processes to secure clean electricity, making our buildings more efficient, and supporting transportation electrification. In addition, we worked on the Columbia River basin salmon recovery, the Washington State Energy Strategy, Oregon’s Executive Order on Climate, and the proposed sale of one of the Colstrip coal-fired generating units. Encouraging energy efficiency, flexible demand, customer-side resources, and system reliability is central to our regional focus.

The Public Utility Commission in Oregon, in the Distribution System Planning docket, had unprecedented community participation, permanently changing the way the PUC operates and engages with stakeholders. The outcome is guidelines for utilities to file their first DSP plans, which will likely happen in the fall of 2021. This introduces serious inclusion of community engagement and access to data availability and other outcomes that provide more effective access to customer-side resources.

Despite a disappointing federal salmon plan that will not lead to recovery of endangered salmon in the Columbia Basin, there is growing interest in comprehensive salmon recovery, energy, and community solutions from policy makers. Dialogue with utilities, tribal leaders, and our conservation allies from across the region led to the four NW Governors announcing an agreement to work together to come up with long-term solutions to restore salmon in the region.

After very strong and unified testimony in Montana and Washington opposing the proposed sale of Colstrip Unit 4 by Puget Sound Energy and purchase by NorthWestern Energy, both companies withdrew their respective proposals. The transaction was not in the public interest in either state!

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rulemaking for the Oregon Clean Fuels Program is focused on making sure that electricity is effectively supported in the clean fuels program by reducing the carbon intensity of electricity used as a transportation fuel, increasing access to renewable electricity used as a transportation fuel, and creating opportunities to maximize transportation electrification in an equitable manner.

Serving on the NW Power Pool’s resource adequacy advisory group has been a frustrating process. The opportunity is great for stronger regional coordination to increase reliability, decrease costs, and accelerate clean energy. However, the ability to advance a transformative vision for resource planning and adequacy process is tough. Education and exchange of best practices is critical to innovation and NWEC is coordinating two regional and West wide workgroups – resource adequacy and flexible demand/ demand response. These workgroups are bringing together the best and brightest to help develop these transformative approaches.

Agency rulemakings in Washington to implement both the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) and the Clean Buildings Act were in full motion all of 2020. We are very proud of the outcome in both rulemakings. The rules governing implementation of the buildings energy use standard are strong and well designed, despite attempts to weaken the rules. The standards go into effect in 2026 and now rules will be developed to incentivize early compliance. A good portion of the rules for implementing CETA are complete and, fortunately, stay true to the intent and obligations set in statue.

In Oregon, the Governor’s Executive Order 20-04 created quite a splash as it updates the state’s GHG emissions standards while protecting vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change. There are dozens of actions, agencies and policies rolling out related to the EO and NWEC is primarily focused on the PUC and continuing to engage strong community voices in the implementation process.

As we expected, Idaho Power Company filed with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to increase its collection of funds for energy efficiency in response to customers that continue to actively participate in utility programs and seek the benefits of efficiency.

NWEC made a commitment 40 years ago to continuously work on Power Council’s regional Power Plan. The 2021 Power Plan has been under development all year and the Coalition has been pushing for a 20-year Plan that focuses on energy efficiency, demand response, and other demand-side resources that will balance the system, accelerate the clean transition, and provide immediate and ongoing benefits to customers.

Utilities in Washington and Oregon are building more robust community engagement as part of the development and implementation of their transportation electrification programs. This is an important foundational principle as TE programs will only grow. Working with utilities to increase their focus on managed charging so it adds value to the grid is still a priority.

Local jurisdictions in Washington may go further than the state on the commercial energy code, and Seattle is updating the 2018 state energy code for commercial and large multi-family buildings. This code update will make these new buildings more efficient, provide more opportunities for on-site solar, and transition most space and water heating away from fossil fuels.

Utility resource planning remains a critical component for developing utility strategies for meeting state climate and clean energy goals. The Coalition is deeply involved in most resource planning advisory committees across the region and our focus is primarily on expanding the role for energy efficiency, flexible demand, storage, and other customer-side resources.

As co-chair of the advisory committee of the Washington State Energy Strategy, Coalition director, Nancy Hirsh, has had a front-row seat as the state built its new energy strategy, to decarbonize transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity. The Strategy recognizes the sobering task before the State to meet its climate goals and seizes the opportunity to provide strong leadership on the actions necessary to reap the significant benefits that will come from meeting these goals.

Looking forward to 2021

We are looking forward to 2021 with optimism. We all hope the pandemic ends, and we anticipate a busy year advancing equitable, clean energy policy in the Northwest. We are making progress! Thank you for your engagement with the Coalition’s work over the past year. In January, we will be releasing our policy priorities for 2021. Stay tuned!

Happy holidays and have a wonderful new year!