NW power plan: No coal, only wind, gas, efficiency
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Regional energy planners say improved efficiency, conservation, wind power and gas will help the Pacific Northwest meet electricity demand over the next 20 years without adding an extra lump of coal. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council unanimously adopted a regional energy plan Wednesday that avoids any new coal-fired plants for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana through 2030. Instead, the council says the region can save 5,900 average megawatts of electricity over the next two decades — enough power for about five cities the size of Seattle — by investing in energy-efficient equipment, buildings and products. "It sets a clear path for the region," said Melinda Eden, one of the Oregon members of the four-state council and chairman of its power committee. The council revises its 20-year plan every five years to guide the Bonneville Power Administration on managing and developing the energy supply for the region while balancing fish and wildlife conservation programs. Utilities also use the plan as a reference for deciding how to manage their services and resources while meeting regional goals. The plan said that 85 percent of the new demand for electricity over the next 20 years can be met through efficiency and conservation, while additional wind power development and natural gas plants can make up the rest. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 million tons per year by 2030, the council estimates that energy efficiency investments outlined in the plan could create as many as 47,000 new jobs in the Northwest. "Whether it's to reduce carbon dioxide or create more jobs and reduce costs, the greatest source of opportunities is conservat ion, " said Michael Carrier, natural resources policy director for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Tom Karier, a Washington state council member, said that conservation, combined with the existing hydropower system and new wind power, will help the Northwest maintain "one of the cleanest power systems in the country." The plan was welcomed by a number of environmental and industry groups. "It's a significant step toward a coal-free region," said Cesia Kearns, an Oregon spokeswoman for the Sierra Club. Coal provides more than a fifth of the energy in a region dominated by clean hydropower from a system made up of 31 federal dams that produce electricity marketed by Bonneville, based in Portland. But Kearns noted the small scattering of coal plants in the region produces more than four-fifths of the power system's greenhouse gas pollution. She said the council's latest plan shows "that a future without coal is not prohibitively expensive, it is not difficult for utilities to achieve and it will not jeopardize power reliability in the Northwest." Dick Adams, executive director of the PNUCC, an association of private and public utilities, praised the council plan but said there are many separate players who must work together in the conservation effort — including consumers, builders, utilities and government agencies. "That's a big challenge," Adams said. "But I think it's doable."