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NORTHWEST MEETING BLASTS INERTIA OF ENERGY POLICY PLANNERS

Policy planners and utilities were accused of being both hesitant and conservative in their attitude towards renewables at a regional energy forum held by the Northwest Power Planning Council. The energy crisis is a current problem and it should be dealt with immediately. The forum was to bring together regional energy experts and others to discuss various objectives and strategies.

In a sign of the Pacific Northwest's interest in renewables, some 200 people attended a regional energy forum held last month by the Northwest Power Planning Council. Present were representatives of utilities, state agencies, environmental groups and others from as far as Colorado.

Striking a theme that might have been appropriate throughout much of the US, speakers blasted the hesitation and inertia of policy planners and utilities regarding wind and other renewables. Co-sponsors of the event were Bonneville Power Administration, Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp and Renewable Northwest Project.

"Northwest energy policy has been ready, aim, aim, aim, aim. Now it's time to fire," said Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation of Seattle, former national chairman of the first Earth Day in 1970. He was once head of renewables for the state of California. "Decisions about the future of tomorrow's world are being made on the basis of a few tenths of a cent per kilowatt hour," Hayes continued. He said he knows of one utility that chose a natural gas combustion turbine over wind on the basis of less than two-tenths of a cent a kilowatt hour in the expected price of electricity. The decision was for only 10% of its anticipated growth. "Most energy policy decisions tend to be framed as if we are addressing a problem that will first confront our grandchildren, but the energy crisis is our crisis."

Others shared his frustration. "We have a special challenge in the Northwest to provide national leadership on issues like these," said Angus Duncan, an Oregon member and chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council. He noted that when the council developed its last power plan in 1991 it included 30 MW of wind. "Over the ensuing four years, the region has met and eclipsed the targets we set in 1991, and by fairly significant amounts," he pointed out.

Ron Eachus, a member of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, shared the concern about institutional inertia. He said the greatest threat to renewable energy may be the conservative political tide. "The symbolisms, the government by cliché and continued domination by special interests really threaten the policy basis that's been laid," he said. Eachus advised that renewables must be marketed to utilities and the public as worthwhile. And the vision must never be forgotten. "Even in the Northwest, where we have low cost energy, if you accept the assumption that you need to consider environmental values, it makes sense that you include a certain amount of renewable resources."

The forum was to bring together regional energy experts and others to discuss regional objectives and strategies to fulfil the Northwest Power Planning Council's charge in the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to boost renewables.

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