Your help will be needed on new regional power plan

ENERGY MATTERS UPDATE  Every five years, the Northwest’s official power planning agency – the Northwest Power and Conservation Council — conducts a fresh assessment of the region’s long-term electricity needs and issues a blueprint for meeting them.

This is no idle exercise. Bonneville Power Administration (the Federal agency that provides almost half of the Northwest’s power) and electric utilities serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana use the plans to guide their resource choices for affordably meeting customer needs. Will growth be covered with clean resources such as new renewables and energy efficiency? What about dirty coal and other fossil fuels? And how much of each?

A draft 6th Northwest Power Plan, covering the period from 2010 through 2029, soon will be released for public comment. Already, utilities, Bonneville, industrial customer groups and public-interest advocates are sparring over conservation targets and the weight to be given to climate concerns. With global warming effects becoming more and more evident and predictions growing steadily more dire, the Council must seriously consider the greenhouse gas emissions not only of potential new resources but also those from continued operation of existing fossil-fueled generation for Northwest consumption.

What’s next

Council staff have prepared a generally positive set of recommendations, well grounded technically and economically. But Council members themselves will determine which recommendations make it into the soon-to-be-released draft 6th Plan and which remain in the final document. Since Council members – two from each of the four states – directly represent their governors, this process takes on political dimensions. Six votes are needed for approval.

That’s why citizen participation will be crucial … to defend the draft’s strong provisions and to strengthen its weak ones. Public input on clean energy made all the difference five years ago, resulting in a 5th Power Plan that called for meeting demand growth almost entirely with new renewable energy and energy efficiency.

We’ll need to build on that success this time around. The stakes are higher. As the Council itself has said, meeting greenhouse-gas reduction goals will require progressively eliminating coal-fired electricity from the Northwest power mix. Two important new studies from the NW Energy Coalition, Bright Future and The Power of Efficiency show this can be done.

Public-interest advocates will need to insist that the 6th Power Plan properly values the benefits of clean renewable energy and energy conservation and the costs of continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels.

Stay tuned

Once the draft plan is released (probably in mid August), we’ll let you know where things stand. You will have opportunities to provide written and oral comments on the draft plan. The Council will host more than a half-dozen public hearings around the region to take in-person oral comments.

Your efforts can help make the 6th Power Plan a true clean and affordable energy plan for the Northwest.