The Transformer – June 19, 2007

Volume 4, Number 4

Study shows region outpacing conservation goal

Power Council seeks advice on hiking 5th Plan target


In December 2004, energy efficiency advocates cheered the release of a new power plan that called for meeting half the predicted increase in Northwest energy demand with conservation. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s 5th Power and Conservation Plan prescribes a healthy diet of efficiency acquisition, resulting in 20-year savings totaling 2,500 average megawatts – enough to power two Seattles and almost as much as the region achieved in the previous two decades.

Now it appears the conservation goal was, well, too conservative. The Council has just released for comment a new study, “A Retrospective Look at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Conservation Planning Assumptions,” which finds that the region is on pace to meet the 20-year target in just 12 to 14 years.

This edition of The Transformer presents the study’s findings and relays a question from the Council: Should the 5th Northwest Power and Conservation Plan be amended to reflect a significantly larger pool of cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities?

Cost-effective is as cost-effective does

“Cost-effective conservation” refers to energy efficiency that can be achieved for less than the cost of any alternative new generation (from coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar and other renewables, etc.).

In preparing the 5th Power and Conservation Plan, the Council first identified all the technically possible energy efficiencies over the next 20 years costing up to the price of the cheapest new generation – 6-7 cents per kilowatt-hour. The final recommendation for 2,500 average megawatts (125 a year) represents 85 percent of what was considered technically possible.

Energy efficiency comes in two varieties: “retrofit” and “lost-opportunity.” About 1,500 average megawatts of the 5th Plan’s total result from retrofit conservation that can be done at any time; the rest result from efficiency measures in new buildings and appliances that can be done only as the opportunity arises. Since lost-opportunity conservation cannot be accelerated, the new study’s findings relate only to retrofit conservation.

Over the last five years, according to the study, the region has been steadily acquiring 110-120 average megawatts per year of retrofit conservation, bringing total annual acquisition with lost-opportunity savings to 130-150 average megawatts – well in excess of the total foreseen in the 5th Power Plan.

It’s not unusual

As its title suggests, “A Retrospective Look at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Conservation Planning Assumptions” goes beyond the current period to compare previous power and conservation plan recommendations with actual efficiency achievements. It finds that the region has almost always and often spectacularly exceeded the Plans’ targets.

The paper is a fascinating examination of residential, commercial and industrial efficiency measures carried out over the past 25 years.

Typical is this story of electric space heating.  In 1983 the Council challenged the region to adopt standards that would slash home heating use 40 percent by 2002.  The region met that goal in less than 10 years: The average single-family home that used 6.3 kilowatt-hours of electricity per square-foot each year for heating in 1983 was using just 4 kilowatt-hours per square foot by 1992. (It’s down to 3.7 kilowatt-hours per square foot today.)

This story is repeated for lighting, motors, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, irrigation, cold storage, silicon manufacture, and on and on. Says the report:

In most cases, Council forecasts of 20-year achievable potential for lost-opportunity measures were met or exceeded in 10 years or less.  In fact, several exceed 100% penetration in ten years, far exceeding the Council’s near term assumption of approximately 50% penetration in 10 years…

The secret of our success

Much of the success can be traced to unforeseen technological developments, such as compact fluorescent lighting.  But sustained utility investment and improved codes and standards play major roles, as well.

Remarkably, our current “over-achievement” is occurring with little help from the Bonneville Power Administration.  BPA has strictly limited its budget to achieving only “its share” of the Council’s efficiency target – about 40 percent of the total. While BPA trumpets its success in meeting that goal, other regional utilities not dependent on Bonneville are acquiring conservation beyond the Council’s target and saving their customers more money.

That’s why it’s important to answer the Council’s question: Should the 5th Power and Conservation Plan’s conservation targets be raised to reflect the paper’s conclusions?

The Council’s targets are essentially binding on BPA and, thanks to passage of Washington’s clean energy Initiative 937, on most of that state’s large electric utilities, too.  If the Council were to increase its target, BPA and Washington utilities (representing half the region’s load) would increase theirs.

If the region is already set to hit its current 20-year goal in 12-14 years, increased efforts from Bonneville could get us there in less than 10.

Your turn

Now it’s up to you.  Check out the paper, and send in your comments by July 13 to Council public affairs director Mark Walker at  Urge the Council to amend its 5th Plan to reflect the increased rate of conservation acquisition that this study shows is possible.

Additional Resources:

Northwest Power and Conservation Council report: “A Retrospective Look at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Conservation Planning Assumptions”

5th Northwest Power Plan

What do you think?

We are interested in your reactions to these articles. We will print as many responses as possible in future editions of The Transformer. Please email comments to