The Northwest Power and Conservation Council recently released its seventh power plan for the region, concluding that carbon emissions will plummet while natural gas and energy efficiency drive a lower-cost, lower-carbon future.
The Council was formed by Congress in 1980 to develop and oversee regional power plans and fish and wildlife programs to balance the region’s energy and environment needs. The Council’s main task is to develop a 20-year electric power plan that will guarantee adequate and reliable energy at the lowest economic and environmental cost to the Northwest. The plan, updated every five years, covers the Bonneville Power Administration region of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana.
The group’s most recent modeling found that, even without additional carbon control policies, carbon dioxide emissions from the Northwest electricity generation system are forecast to go from about 55 million metric tons of CO2 in 2015 to around 34 million metric tons in 2035 – a decrease of 38 percent. This continues a clear trend we’ve seen over time. In Washington, CO2 emissions from the electric sector are currently 18 percent below 1990 levels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Due to existing policy changes and innovation, it’s widely expected that Washington will already comply with EPA’s new Clean Power Plan requirements.
What’s contributing to this continued limit on carbon emissions? The projected decrease results from the retiring of the Boardman, North Valmy and Centralia coal plants by 2026, the use of existing natural gas-fired generation to replace them and the development of about 4,500 average megawatts of energy efficiency by 2035. After energy efficiency, according to the Council, new natural gas-fired generation is the most cost-effective resource option for the region in the near-term. The Council also concludes that the increased use of existing natural gas generation offers the lowest cost option for reducing regional carbon emissions. In other words, over the next 20 years our region’s electricity power generation is going to remain reliable, cost-effective and have much lower carbon output.
According to the Council’s model, the region as a whole could even comply with the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan under critical water conditions. This is a key conclusion since it means we’ll have sufficient low-carbon, low-cost electricity generation to meet demand even when the hydro system is lacking resources – something increasingly probable given the lack of water we’ve seen across the West in recent years.
The Northwest remains an attractive location for job creation due to its low-cost and low-carbon electricity – companies want to locate here and workers want to work here. On the eve of Governor Inslee’s trip to Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, it’s an opportunity for him to tout his own state’s carbon-reduction leadership. Rather than spending time focusing on complex, top-down regulatory schemes designed to drive up the cost of energy, leaders should find ways to encourage innovation and collaboration. If they do, Washington can make a great contribution to that discussion.
You can read the executive summary of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council plan here.