Council pushes energy saving - previous measures like weatherization barely measure, says council

May 3rd, 2004

By Chris Mulick Tri-City Herald Olympia bureau

Washington State - An analysis by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council indicates half the region's new energy needs could be met through 2025 by comparatively cheap conservation measures.

But whether consumers, businesses and utilities will pony up the $350 million to $400 million a year in up-front costs to make that happen is another matter.

...the cost of conserving energy isn't paid monthly but in up-front payments to buy equipment or renovate operations, making it a hard sell in a tougher economy.

For that amount, total potential savings could hit 2,800 megawatts over the next two decades -- a little more than what was saved through conservation efforts utilized during the past two.

"It is a big number," said Margie Gardner, executive director of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. "It's a lot of power plants."

The savings would be obtained through upgrades in homes and businesses to lighting, air conditioning and heating systems plus various equipment replacements and other measures.

"A lot of these measures were not available before," said Charlie Grist, a senior analyst for the council, a federal agency charged with balancing fish and power needs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Over time, the various measures would pencil out nicely, costing most ratepayers less than half what it would cost them to buy the same amount of electricity from their utility.

The average cost of 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour cited by the council also compares favorably with electricity generated at conventional power plants fueled by coal, natural gas or wind, sources which are primarily being looked to by power planners.

Of course, the cost of conserving energy isn't paid monthly but in up-front payments to buy equipment or renovate operations, making it a hard sell in a tougher economy.

"It just has to make economic sense," said Ken Canon, director of the Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities. "It's always been one of the aspects of conservation that is most challenging."

He questions whether it's even possible to produce accurate numbers estimating how much energy has been saved by implementing various conservation measures over the past 20 years or projecting future gains. That's because the region's industrial base -- home to the largest consumers of electricity -- can change so much over time.

"Just count up how many wood product plants that have closed in the last 20 years," Canon said. "Conservation is always something we strive for but since it is hard to pin down, it is sometimes oversold."

Homeowner use of compact fluorescent light bulbs is the measure holding the single greatest energy saving potential at more than 500 megawatts, according to the council report. It also is among the cheapest ways to save energy.

Other measures listed include using new appliances such as water heaters, clothes washers and refrigerators, plus efficiencies made in various lighting and irrigation systems.

Home weatherization, a staple of the conservation push in the 1980s, barely registers.



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