Energy in the U.S.

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Reliable, affordable, environmentally responsible electric power is essential to Washington state and our nation’s economic well-being. Whether powering business and industry directly, or attracting quality workers to an affordable locale, electric power and economic prosperity are inescapably linked. 

Long blessed with cheap, abundant hydropower, the Pacific Northwest’s growing demand for power will impact the economy, the environment and overall quality of life. 

Unfortunately no one power generation technology appears ready or able to meet all our power needs as each form has inherent benefits and consequences. Instead we will need an integrated mix of power generation technologies, each bringing their own relative strengths and weaknesses. 

Any discussion of power generation ought to begin with an acknowledgement that conservation remains the first, best, fastest, and cheapest way to address the seemingly insatiable appetite for power. The federal government offers loan guarantees for energy efficiency measures but who bears the costs of implementing conservation measures remains an important policy issue.

Conversely, there is broad disagreement regarding how much of a role conservation can play in meeting future demand. The answer becomes important when calculating the need for additional power generation facilities. 

Although good arguments can be made that conservation will drive investment in technologies like advanced solar power generation and LED lighting, it seems unlikely that any economy can conserve itself into prosperity. 

Whatever strategies and technologies are employed to meet future power requirements, consumers are likely to demand three primary components — reliability, affordability and environmental responsibility. Since no one power generation system is fully capable of meeting all three criteria to everyone’s satisfaction, the discussion becomes one of priorities. How do the criteria stack up: Is cost most important? Should reliability be a given?

How important is protecting the environment? 

 

 Reliability

 

​Reliable power is an expectation that seldom gets much notice. Power outages that are routine in developing nations are so infrequent in our region that the occasional outage is a newsworthy event. Are Washingtonians prepared to compromise on the reliability of power — or perhaps pay more — to achieve their environmental objectives?

Some suggest the combination of conservation and wind power can meet the region’s power needs for decades to come. The significant challenges of integrating large quantities of intermittent wind power into the regional transmission grid cannot be underestimated.

 
 

 Affordability

 

Affordable power defies easy description. Long accustomed to cheap hydropower, Northwest ratepayers likely have a different perspective on power prices than East Coast residents who pay more on average. Often times much more. There is, perhaps, only one universal truth: power prices can never be too low. 

Many people throughout the country, including the Northwest, voluntarily pay extra for “green” power. However for most ratepayers the desire for low rates routinely eclipses concerns about reliability or environmental protections.

 
 

 Environmental Responsibility

 

​Absent a major technological breakthrough, environmental responsibility will continue to be viewed in terms of cost and reliability constraints. The more we are willing to pay – and the more often we are willing to accept constraints on reliability – the easier it will be to achieve environmental goals. The challenge for utilities will be finding an acceptable balance between the environment, cost and reliability that serves the interests of a majority of citizens.

As in financial investing, the industry will need to diversify its sources of power generation to mitigate risk and maximize reward. Pairing dissimilar technologies will help balance the desire for low prices, high reliability and environmental protection. Sources like wind and solar are environmentally friendly, but costly and intermittent. Pairing them with full-time power sources like hydro, natural gas, nuclear and clean-coal can provide acceptable levels of reliability and help reduce costs.

 
 

 Generating Options

 

​In a world of compromise, its seldom one is able to enjoy the luxury of getting every desire. That is certainly true in the pursuit of responsible electric power generation options.  

For the foreseeable future, efforts must continue to balance the inherent strengths and weakness of various generation options against the interests of competing voices – some calling for the cheapest power, others calling for the most environmentally friendly options and all expecting reliability.

Choosing regional power options will require reasoned dialogue and wise compromises that minimize the consequences to our economy and our environment. For its part, Energy Northwest will continue to pursue promising new technologies and options for generating reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric power. 

 
 

 National Renewable Portfolio Standard

 

​Calls for a national renewable energy portfolio standard suggest a one-size-fits-all approach. Any such national standard cannot penalize states or providers who currently generate no or low carbon emissions. It must also consider hydropower as a renewable energy source. Anything else is sure to drive up power costs and drive down reliability for all Northwest ratepayers.​

Blue-Bullet.png Energy Northwest actively supports educating the public on energy issues and related industries. The links below provide basic information on power generation, as well as detailed information on U.S. energy policy.
 
We also maintain a speakers bureau to further public awareness and understanding of Northwest and national power generation issues. Speakers are available at no cost for schools, civic clubs, community organizations and other interested groups.
 

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