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Published: Saturday, December 24, 2011, 12:01 a.m.
Guest commentary / Conservation

PUD a leader in NW energy efficiency

Despite years of less than stellar economic news, there is at least one bright spot in the Northwest: In 2010 Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana made significant investments in electric energy efficiency that saved a record-breaking 254 average megawatts, an amount of power equivalent to the annual electricity use of about 171,000 Northwest homes.
Utilities and others invested $360 million in the Northwest economy in 2010 to achieve the savings, and that one-year investment is expected to reduce ratepayer bills by $1.4 billion over the 14-year average life of the efficiency measures. The investment will pay for itself in less than three years.
There are not many investments in the public or private sector with that kind of rate of return. Investments in energy efficiency create jobs and significantly lower the cost of meeting current and future energy needs.
Under General Manager Steve Klein's leadership, Snohomish County Public Utility District hit a historic high for energy efficiency in 2010, saving 9.2 average megawatts, or enough to serve 6,500 homes. It is on track for one of its best years again in 2011.
Like many other utilities in the Northwest, Snohomish faces a shrinking number of cost-effective choices to meet future demand for power, and this makes low-cost, zero-carbon energy efficiency an increasingly attractive option. In Snohomish County, as in many other parts of the state, customers can choose from a broad range of energy efficiency programs, cash incentives, low-interest loans, and other resources that address virtually every aspect of electricity use -- both at home and at work. The goal is to make saving energy as easy and attractive as possible.
Like the council, the PUD recognizes the need to complement energy efficiency with new, innovative generating and efficiency technologies. To that end, the PUD is testing a variety of cutting-edge products such as heat-pump water heaters in homes and ultra-efficient ventilation systems in businesses. At the same time, traditional efficiency programs are continuing. Last year, for example, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs sales hit a high mark, with nearly 4.4 million discounted CFLs sold in the last decade through a PUD network of more than 50 local retailers.
Through a partnership with local and regional government, in 2010 the PUD launched a grass-roots program, Community Power, to support energy efficiency measures in underserved areas. To date, more than 5,000 homes and 100 local businesses have taken advantage of energy-saving measures, including efficient windows and lighting retrofits.
While 2010 was a banner year, the Northwest is consistently among the national leaders in energy efficiency. Over the past 40 years, our regional savings have topped 4,600 average megawatts -- enough power for four cities the size of Seattle. Washington ranks fifth in the nation in policies that encourage energy efficiency, according to the 2011 Scorecard Report of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
We represent Washington on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which works with the Bonneville Power Administration and regional utilities to track energy-efficiency accomplishments every year. This means adding up the savings from compact fluorescent light bulbs, LEDs, home insulation projects, and new efficient home appliances, furnaces, and industrial and agricultural equipment installed in homes, businesses and farms across the region in the past year.
According to the council's regional power plan, if the Northwest continues to invest aggressively in energy efficiency it could reduce the growth of electricity loads by 85 percent over the next 20 years.
However, we don't want to become complacent because of the record results of 2010. In the future we won't have the benefit of the federal stimulus program that provided generous funding for energy-efficiency programs in Washington and other states. But energy efficiency will continue to be a smart investment, and we will continue to rely on homeowners, businesses and local utilities to pursue creative solutions for saving energy and managing future energy bills.

Tom Karier and Phil Rockefeller represent Washington state on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

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