Forum: Energy efficiency needs emphasis from utilities, agencies

Snohomish PUD has been a leader in energy conservation, but more work is needed as electricity demand grows.

By Kim Drury / Herald Forum

Although 73 percent of the power that Snohomish Public Utility District delivers to its customers comes via Bonneville Power Administration, I’ve yet to read anything in The Herald about the huge challenge facing the federal energy agency, and — for that matter — all of the region’s hydro-electric systems.

The fact is that the regional grid is stressed; demand for electricity is going up as customers, concerned about the climate crisis, convert from fossil fuels to clean energy for everything from waterheaters to vehicle to HVAC systems. At the same time, it takes utilities time and money to build out new clean energy production — solar and wind primarily — and the transmission systems to get that clean energy to where it’s needed. Making it even more complicated is planning for increasingly common weather extremes, like summer heat domes and low winter snow packs. And let’s not overlook the need to keep water in the rivers for fish and wildlife

These are the urgent questions facing the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the agency charged by Congress to plan for ensuring that the BPA delivers reliable and affordable energy while also protecting fish and wildlife. And there are questions of major concern for Snohomish PUD, which relies so heavily on BPA power.

It’s not all bad news. In fact, the region has a large source of untapped and affordable clean energy: increased energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is a proven resource. For years, Snohomish PUD has been a leader in investing in energy conservation and is planning on even more. Regionally, energy conservation savings since 1980 are equivalent to powering nearly seven cities the size of Seattle and has saved ratepayers billions of dollars in lower electric bills.

But there is much more cost-effective energy efficiency for BPA, and all utilities, to acquire throughout the region. As the cleanest and cheapest energy resource available, Snohomish PUD should be pressing the Power Council and BPA to substantially increase its investments in energy conservation. Energy efficiency is key to meeting growing demand; and it stretches clean and green energy resources like wind and solar much further.

Finally, something to think about: More than 25 percent of the region’s electrical load growth over the next five years is forecast to come from data centers, including a large share for mining crypto currency. Is this really the highest and best use of our increasingly valuable clean energy? And what happens — who is left holding the bag to pay for the energy investments — if and when those energy intensive crypto-mining centers close shop and leave town?

Kim Drury is a former senior policy associate with NW Energy Coalition. She lis retired and lives in Langley, Whidbey Island. The above opinion is her own and does not necessarily represent the views of her former employer.

Correction: The boave esssay has been changed to correction Drury’s relationship with the NW Energy Coalition.

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