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The NW Power & Conservation Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve the four-state Northwest Regional Power Plan, a green energy roadmap showing how Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Montana can meet our electricity needs for the next 20 years almost exclusively through non-fossil fuel resources such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The groundbreaking Regional 7th Power Plan picks up where the equally groundbreaking 6th Power Plan left off five years ago and takes big new steps toward an even cleaner Northwest power grid.

Like all Power Plans adopted by the Power Council, this one relies in part on individual electric utility leadership and participation to reach a goal that not all power companies have fully embraced: lessening the Northwest’s contribution to global climate change by replacing greenhouse gas-spewing fossil fuel generation such as coal plants with an affordable, practical, and modern combination of clean, renewable energy and efficiency.

Even if utilities get on board in pitching in for a clean energy future, leadership must also come from state and local governments, and while that is already on display elsewhere, it remains in short supply in Idaho. The lack of state leadership didn’t deter dozen of Idahoans from submitting written and oral comments to the Power Council as it finalized the plan earlier this winter.

In any case, Council approval of the 7th Power Plan provides Idaho clean energy advocates with an invaluable tool as we press for a carbon-free electricity future. While climate change denial is still deeply rooted among Idaho policymakers and elected officials, Idahoans by clear margins demand cleaner energy from their electric utilities. Also weighing in our favor is the fact that even if Idaho utility policies and regulations don’t require our power companies to replace dirty with clean energy, these same power companies do business in states like Oregon, Washington, California and even Montana that do demand cleaner generation.

Congress created the Power Council in 1980 as part of the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act. It is required to write a 20-year regional electric power plan to ensure an adequate and reliable energy supply at the lowest economic and environmental cost to the Northwest. Each of the four Northwest states is represented by two Council members. Idaho’s Council members are Jim Yost and Bill Booth, both appointed by Gov. Butch Otter. We don’t hear as much about the Power Council here in Idaho as they do in Oregon and Washington, partly because so much of our power in Idaho comes not from the federal Bonneville Power Administration but from three big investor-owned utilities – Idaho Power, Rocky Mountain Power, and Avista Utilities. Here’s a short explanation of “why we have a regional power plan” for the Northwest.

Longtime observers of the regional Northwest energy scene may recall that the Power Council’s 6th Power Plan, adopted five years ago, projected that the region would meet 85 percent of its new “load growth” through energy efficiency. The region more than surpassed that goal.

As expected, the current plan says it may be possible to meet all new electricity demands through 2035 with cost-effective energy efficiency. And what energy efficiency can’t deliver as we meet new power demand and phase out climate-changing coal plants, clean energy generation like wind, solar, geothermal, and other resources will. Even if parts of our region must turn to natural gas to make up some of their new energy needs, the number of new gas plants is likely to be minimal.

The Plan envisions helping states meet their renewable energy mandates, with the exception of Idaho, which has no renewable energy goals. It will also meet short-term summer and winter “peaking” needs with the help of “demand response” program such as Idaho Power’s residential air-conditioning cycling program, which allows the utility to briefly interrupt customers’ A.C. operations to ease demand pressure on the grid. The Plan should also enable the Northwest region to meet new Environmental Protection Agency emission reduction targets from existing coal plants even during times of critical water conditions.

This is the third five-year Power Council Plan that I’ve been involved in, and I’m pleased to say each one builds on the ambitious goals of the one before.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work,” Council President Henry Lorenzen of Oregon said after the quick, unanimous roll call vote to approve the plan. “Members of the Council have worked very diligently, working through the terms of the Plan. I’m absolutely overwhelmed not only by the quality of work by staff but by the tireless work they put in on the Plan. I’m amazed how this process came to fruition. The methodology set forth is going to be invaluable to the region.”

You can visit the Council and the Alliance for more information about the plan.