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Power in numbers: Green energy could fuel the Northwest

March 18, 2009 | 12:46 pm

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OK, everybody thinks clean energy is a good idea. But with electricity demand rising, new technology expensive and ever-increasing challenges to existing renewables like hydropower, can we afford it?

Yes. Dirty coal plants can be mothballed while providing more electricity for homes, businesses and public transport by asking consumers to pay less than a penny more per kilowatt hour, says a new report from the Northwest Energy Coalition.

The key is energy efficiency. The group suggests that the region can save enough energy to meet 60% of the region's new power needs, and still cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The prescription includes tax incentives for recycling waste heat from industrial on-site electrical generation, better top-to-bottom efficiencies, and development of 7-10,000 megawatts of new wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other alternative energy by 2050. It won't cost that much more than building 25,000 new megawatts of capacity in new coal or gas, the report suggests.

To get there will take a federal mandate to the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates the Northwest hydropower system, to set an annual floor of 340 average megawatts of new energy efficiency and 270 megawatts of new renewable energy. New state renewable energy standards must be in place, and coal plants must be phased out.

"Energy efficiency is the lowest cost and most environmentally responsible resource that's available," said Stan Price, director of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, an industry group that of course will benefit from all those weatherization contracts -- as will the regional economy, the report sponsors say, from all the jobs and products needed to get to energy nirvana.

-- Kim Murphy

Photo: The Stateline Wind Project on the Washington-Oregon border will, when it's completed, be one of the largest wind projects in the world. Credit: Associated Press /Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Jeff Horner

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