Taking the region’s clean energy future
to the entire West
By KEN TOOLE
Two hundred billion is a really big number. According to a new Western Grid Group report, that’s how many dollars will be spent on Western states’ power systems over the next 20 years, regardless of how we choose to replace aging power plants and meet estimated growth in energy demand.
The report, Western Grid 2050: Contrasting Futures, Contrasting Fortunes, compares two different future scenarios. One is “business as usual” — essentially continuing to invest in fossil fuels and to deliver power over long distances from plant to market. The other would prioritize investments aimed at realizing a clean energy vision.
Business as usual will bring relatively little new energy efficiency and clean renewable generation into our system. We will remain largely dependent on coal and gas to meet power needs, thus increasing our emissions of greenhouse gases and other toxic air pollutants, draining more of our dwindling water supply and leaving us with a power system even more at risk from volatile fossil fuel prices.
Realizing the clean energy vision, on the other hand, requires efficiency, flexibility and development of clean, renewable energy sources. It calls for aggressive energy efficiency programs and new ways of bringing small distributed energy sources into our electric system. It means restructuring the Western power grid to incorporate more varied power sources and making operational changes that facilitate utility resource sharing so the power we do generate is used as efficiently as possible.
The result will be a low-carbon power supply, reduced risk, better security and reliability, and consumers empowered to manage their own energy use and get power at a lower price.
Some large, powerful interest groups representing fossil-fuel and related industries are doing their best to keep the clean energy vision from becoming a reality. Inertia is another potent adversary — it’s just easier to keep doing things the way we always have, even when what we’re doing is destroying our climate.
But we can choose the cleaner path. The Western Grid Group’s clean energy vision confirms for the entire West what the NW Energy Coalition’s Bright Future proved for the Northwest: that a clean, affordable, climate-friendly and job-producing energy future is within our grasp.
The NW Energy Coalition has shown that being persistent, knowledgeable and strategic makes change happen. The Coalition’s 30 years of success provide the optimism we need to face our challenges.
Ken Toole is a former Montana state senator and Montana Public Service Commissioner. He now works for the Policy Institute in Montana and coordinates the Western Clean Energy Advocates, a coalition of non-profit advocacy groups and clean energy business interests across 11 Western states. He has served on the NW Energy Coalition Executive Board.