NW Energy Coalition: Then and now

NW Energy Coalition: Then and now

The NW Energy Coalition, née the Northwest Conservation Act Coalition, was born of the battle against the absurdly misguided attempt to litter the Northwest with dozens of dangerous, polluting, unneeded and expensive nuclear power plants.

This year the Coalition celebrates its 30th anniversary as the region’s leading advocate for policies promoting energy efficiency, new renewable energy development, consumer/low-income protection and energy assistance, and wild salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin.

Much has changed in three decades, from the organization’s name, to the breadth of its advocacy, to the Northwest’s energy landscape itself.

Here’s a few examples.


Then. In February 1981, a small band of clean energy pioneers created an organization to monitor implementation of the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act (“the Act”), which Pres. Jimmy Carter had signed into law two months before.

For years, those pioneers had lobbied for the clean energy, low-income and fish and wildlife guarantees in the Act. Now they formed the Northwest Conservation Act Coalition (NCAC), comprising about 25 organizations. NCAC began with just one employee, consultant and then executive director Mark Reis of Seattle.

Now. NCAC changed its name to the NW Energy Coalition in 1997. NWEC (pronounced letter-by-letter but usually just called “the Coalition”) still monitors the Act, but its dozen employees in Montana, Oregon, Washington and (sometimes) Idaho do much, much more.

Working with the Coalition’s more than 110 organizational members, staff members work for clean energy, consumer protection and salmon restoration across a host of regulatory, legislative, political and individual utility venues throughout the region.


Then: NCAC’s immediate task was influencing the first regional power plan. The Act had established the Northwest Power Planning Council (NPPC or “the Council”) and charged it with projecting Northwest electricity needs and prescribing the best means for meeting them. Each five years, the Council must adopt a new 20-year plan.

According to the Act, new needs are to be met, first, with cost-saving energy efficiency (“conservation”); second, with affordable new renewable resources; and only after that with traditional power sources such as nuclear, natural gas and coal. Getting the Council (and then Bonneville and its utilities) to adhere to those strictures hasn’t always been easy.

To inform the Council’s deliberations, NCAC prepared (in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council) its first Model Plan. Authored by Ralph Cavanagh, Margie Gardner, David Goldstein and Michael Shuman, the Model Plan was released in 1982. On April 27, 1983, the Council approved the 1st Northwest Power and Conservation Plan, closely mirroring the Coalition’s recommendations.

Now. The NW Energy Coalition and its allies bask in the glow of the Sixth Northwest Power and Conservation Plan, approved by what’s now called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in February 2010.

Aptly reflecting the Council’s name change (substituting “Power and Conservation” for “Power Planning”), the Sixth Plan calls for meeting fully 85% of new electric needs with energy efficiency. Virtually all the rest is to come from the new renewable energy required by Northwest states thanks to successful advocacy by the Coalition and partner organizations.

Again, the regional plan benefited from a landmark Coalition study. Bright Future, published in March 2009, shows  that the Northwest can tap its abundant energy efficiency and renewable energy potential to meet load growth, fuel electric vehicles, replace enough coal power to meet climate goals and alter hydrosystem operations to restore endangered Columbia Basin salmon – all while costing consumers little or nothing more than continued, polluting energy business-as-usual.

The Sixth Plan more than confirmed those findings. Today, NW Energy Coalition staff, members and partners are working to ensure that Bonneville and the region’s utilities follow the Sixth Plan’s guidelines.


Then. Utilities were explicitly barred from NCAC membership. In the early ’80s, Coalition executive director Mark Reis asked a Seattle City Light energy conservation staffer named Sara Patton to leave a meeting on the grounds that she was “a utility person.”

Now. Current utility members on the NW Energy Coalition include Emerald People’s Utility District, Eugene Water & Electric Board, Portland General Electric, NW Natural, Puget Sound Energy, the city of Ashland and the aforementioned Seattle City Light. Sara Patton has been Coalition executive director since 1993.


Then. Soon after NCAC was founded, activist Fred Heutte of Oregon began publishing the Regional Act Forum, a bi-weekly newsletter on implementation of the regional power act. He produced RAF by using a typewriter to cut stencils so he could mimeograph copies to mail out.

By the end of Year 1, RAF had morphed into the Northwest Conservation Act Report. Heutte had moved to a new job with the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association. Richard Conlin of Seattle edited the Report, becoming the Coalition’s second employee (part-time). Sometimes the Report’s $175 annual subscription fee – often paid by supportive utilities that were barred from Coalition membership or by foes wanting to keep tabs on Coalition activities — was all that kept NCAC financially afloat.

Now. Coalition funding now comes from grants and the dues paid by individual members and member organizations including for-profit businesses (generally from the clean energy sector) and utilities.

The Report, meanwhile, has gone the way of the typewriter, the stencil and the mimeograph machine. Today’s regular Coalition publications – The Transformer policy journal and this newsletter, The Energy Activist — are written, edited and laid out on things called “computers” and distributed primarily via something called “the Internet.”

Richard Conlin is president of Seattle’s City Council. And Fred Heutte? Among his many activities, he now serves as a senior policy associate for the NW Energy Coalition.

— Marc Krasnowsky