Clean & Affordable Energy Conference Digest – Spring 2024

The NW Energy Coalition hosted our Spring conference in Boise, ID this year. Speakers discussed next steps in salmon recovery in the Columbia basin, new opportunities in markets and transmission, and protecting consumers as the region decarbonizes. Find a summary of the discussions below, but first, a thank you to our sponsors who made this event possible! 

Keynote Speaker – Chairman Shannon Wheeler

Photo by Alessandra de la Torre

Chairman Shannon Wheeler of the Nez Perce Tribe set the tone for the conference. He spoke of the urgency of protecting salmon and steelhead which now sit on the brink of extinction in the lower Snake River basin. The Covenant of the Salmon People documentary delves into the central role that salmon plays in Nez Perce culture, history, and spirituality. Chairman Wheeler urged the audience to reconsider the costs and benefits associated with the four lower Snake River dams as we work to address the fish and power crisis. Chairman Wheeler called on us to open our hearts and minds to tell the truth about the salmon, and the role of the federal hydro system’s role in colonialism. He said we are only borrowing this space from future generations and the ones here before human beings, and it’s up to us to change things for the better. 

Panel 1: Affordable, reliable energy services and Columbia basin salmon recovery

Photo by Alessandra de la Torre

Moderator: Mitch Cutter, Salmon & Energy Strategist, Idaho Conservation League 


  • Shannon Wheeler, Chairman, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee 
  • Jeremiah Baumann, Senior Advisor, Director of Policy and Implementation, Office of the Secretary, USDOE 

The panelists discussed the significance of clean energy development and Tribal energy development, as well as the challenges and trade-offs involved in finding alternative resources to replace the lower Snake River dams’ (LSRD) energy services. Tribal energy is one part of replacing these services, as are things like virtual power plants, distributed storage, utility-scale renewables and thousands of connected microgrids. There is a need for political consensus and funding to address the aging electric infrastructure system. The regional energy needs assessment getting underway this year is a partnership between Tribal, state and federal governments, and will build investment-grade analysis to show how the region can decarbonize our electric sector and evaluate changes to the hydropower system to support salmon recovery efforts including replacing the energy services of the LSRDs. Finally, panelists discussed the important role of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in these issues and the critical need for strong leadership.  

Panel 2: Ensuring electricity markets and transmission expansion benefits Northwest communities 

Photo by Alessandra de la Torre

Moderator: Lauren McCloy, Policy Director, NW Energy Coalition  


  • Kyle Unruh, Montana & Idaho Policy Manager, Renewable Northwest 
  • Crystal Ball, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee 
  • Donald Williams, Principal, From the Light Consulting 
  • Connor Reiten, Vice President of Government Affairs, PNGC Power 

Opening remarks set the stage for the discussion: 

  • The Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee’s recent 2024 regional forecast projects electricity demand could grow 30% due to electrification, data centers and industrial manufacturing, and warmer summers.  
  • Using our existing transmission more efficiently, and as well investments in new infrastructure, is essential to meeting this challenge.  
  • The Northwest saw high prices during this year’s January coldsnap, in part due to lack of transmission capacity.  
  • The success of the Western Energy Imbalance Market (WEIM), boasting $5 billion in benefits over the past 10 years, shows the benefits of regional collaboration as one means to addressing extreme weather.  
  • Efforts like the Western Transmission Expansion Coalition (WestEC), a West-wide collaboration between utilities, public interest organizations, Tribal utilities, and transmission developers, are looking at much-needed long-term transmission planning for our region’s energy needs. 

The ensuing discussion expanded on the current challenges and needed solutions moving forward. Panelists discussed how the current system of 38 different balancing authorities across the West makes it difficult to plan and makes it hard to agree on a unified power market option. There are two dueling market options – expanding on WEIM with the Extended Day Ahead Market (EDAM), and Southwest Power Pool’s Markets+ proposal. An audience member asked about the potential for market seams between the two markets, which would hamper trade and increase costs. Governance is the clear hurdle to overcome to unite the West, as a California-Independent-System-Operator-governed EDAM will not work for anyone.  

Panelists discussed the challenge in meeting our growing energy and decarbonization and the need for an all-of-the-above approach that includes grid enhancing technologies and reconductoring to optimize existing transmission, new transmission infrastructure, and new, diverse renewables. It is also important to engage communities and Tribal governments early to build capacity, consensus, and a sense of agency in these conversations. Often times these regional conversations are met with skepticism and a loss of local control. New transmission and connected markets can bring economic, workforce, and environmental benefits to states, Tribes, and rural communities, and we need to be clear about these opportunities.  

Panel 3: Protecting consumers and communities as the region decarbonizes

Photo by Alessandra de la Torre

Moderator: Will Gehrke, Senior Technical Analyst, NW Energy Coalition 


  • Anahí Segovia Rodriguez, Energy Justice Coordinator, Verde 
  • Courtney White, Managing Director, Clean Energy Opportunities of Idaho 
  • Lara Ettenson, Strategist, Western Equitable Infrastructure Solutions, Natural Resource Defense Council 
  • Brad Heusinkveld, Energy Policy Associate, Idaho Conservation League

Opening remarks discussed the need to give consumers both more choices and inclusion in utility and energy planning processes. Utilities and regulators need to understand how low-income communities are impacted emotionally and financially by decisions. Increasingly higher fixed monthly charges can come as a surprise to consumers, leading to confusion and disincentivizing using energy efficiently to lower bills. Panelists urged the audience to be more considerate of folks that need to budget for their energy bills and the strain rising fixed charges and variable rates pose. 

Time-of-use (TOU) programs are a growing trend around the country, which raise energy prices during the busy evening hours to lower demand and reduce the stress on supply. More granular data is helping facilitate these programs, as controlling the demand side can be important for matching with supply resources. Aligning price signals with costs has a range of benefits: more choice and cost savings for customers, more efficient use of utility resources, and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for demand spikes. It was noted that TOU programs can benefit those privileged enough to shift their demand and it is important to do more to simplify these programs and make the benefits to all consumers clearer and easier to access.  

Panelists addressed the need to think critically about how to make the energy space more accessible to everyone. The regulatory and utility processes can feel inaccessible to many, with wonky language and rigid procedures. Lived experience is just as important, and community members should be treated as experts. It is institutions, rather than frontline communities, that are currently deciding the definition of “low-income”. This may leave behind middle-income households who need assistance but are just outside the income range for assistance programs.  Utility commissions were urged to create more and different kinds of ways for everyone to engage in these regulatory processes. 

Save the date for the NW Energy Coalition’s fall 2024 Clean & Affordable Energy Conference in Seattle on November 13, 2024!