NW power plan focuses on efficiency and reducing emissions
NW Energy Coalition statement on adoption Feb. 10, 2010
of the Sixth Northwest Power and Conservation Plan
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has just approved the most far-sighted power plan in the official regional energy-planning agency’s 30-year history. The Council’s Sixth Plan calls for meeting most new electricity needs over the next 20 years with cost-cutting energy efficiency and likely all the rest with clean, affordable new renewable energy resources, resulting – for the first time – in no net increase in the power system’s greenhouse gas pollution.
In addition, the Council’s plan provides a roadmap for shutting down coal plants to actually reduce climate pollution enough to meet state and regional climate-protection goals. It also includes a study showing that the power from the four lower Snake River dams, the greatest continuing threat to endangered wild salmon, can be cheaply and effectively replaced.
Council members could have recommended but did not recommend that utilities factor realistic carbon-emission prices into current resource decisions. That directive alone could have scaled back coal-fired power production enough to meet state and regional climate goals for 2020. But the Council’s mid-range prediction of a $47 per ton fee for carbon emissions should tell utilities that running their coal plants full out is a bad idea … not just for the environment but for their customers’ pocketbooks as well.
The Council’s Plan and the analyses behind it confirm findings (in the NW Energy Coalition’s Bright Future and The Power of Efficiency studies, for example) that our region contains more than enough affordable conservation and new clean renewable energy opportunities to:
- Meet rising electricity use
- Provide for new electricity uses (especially for electric-powered transportation)
- Cover any gaps left from breaching the four lower Snake River dams
- Replace the dirty power from the dozen coal plants that provide less than a quarter of the region’s electricity but produce nearly 90% of the power system’s carbon dioxide emissions.
The Sixth Plan’s primary recommendation is to meet about 85% of new electricity needs through 2030 with energy efficiencies costing about half of what any new power production would cost. The Council says – as we do – that more efficiency is available, but the new renewable power required by three of the four Northwest states generally will be enough to cover remaining needs.
With so much extra energy efficiency and tens of thousands of affordable renewable energy opportunities left on the table, we have more than enough clean energy potential to replace polluting coal-fired power, help recover endangered salmon and fuel a growing fleet of electric cars, trucks and mass transit vehicles.
Responding to repeated requests made during the public comment period, the Council analyzed what it would take – and what it would cost – for the power system to do its share in meeting state emissions-reduction goals. Oregon, Washington and Montana have committed to CO2 reduction targets that work out to about 35% by 2030. About half the region’s coal generation would be phased out at an additional cost to consumers of less than 2/3rd cent per kilowatt-hour compared to continued polluting business as usual … equal to Bright Future’s estimate.
The majority of those offering public comments wanted the Council to direct utilities to start phasing out coal in line with the analysis. The Council stopped short of meeting this request but its study shows we can quite painlessly wean ourselves from polluting coal power. And the plan’s opening statement acknowledges that we cannot meet our climate responsibilities without doing so.
At the urging of clean-energy advocates and supporters of salmon survival, the Council has included and updated its study on the costs of replacing the power from the lower Snake River dams. The study concludes – as Bright Future does – that the power production and other benefits of the four dams can be very affordably replaced. And that doesn’t reflect the economic boom of a revived commercial and recreational fishery.
The Council deserves praise for fashioning a plan with aggressive but achievable energy conservation targets and no increase in climate emissions. The Sixth Northwest Power and Conservation Plan is the Council’s best plan by far.
The plan will not reduce CO2 levels unless Congress or other policy makers put a cost on carbon emissions or adopt other mandates. Clean energy, climate and consumer groups urged the Council to take more leadership in the plan.
Going forward, we pledge to work with the Council in the coming months and years to implement this far-sighted plan and to make the next plan better still. We expect the Council to lead the analytic effort that fully models the region’s greenhouse gas-reduction goals and to help the power system meet its power, climate and wildlife responsibilities.
In the interim we expect every state legislature, utility commission, state agency, local government and individual utility to use the plan’s efficiency and renewable energy recommendations and the fish and coal findings to achieve a clean and affordable energy future.