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Transcript: Individual behaviors and energy use
Individual energy users are a key part of the energy story. Our choices -- about whether we heat our homes with wood, gas, heating oil, or electricity -- help determine what kinds of energy are produced and their effects on our environment. And the choices we make about when we use energy -- whether we run the dishwasher right after dinner (when everyone else is running appliances) or after we go to bed -- help determine how big the plants that produce energy must be. And these choices in turn affect what energy costs for everybody and what kind of environment we live in.
These are selections from the whole transcript. Some comments will also occur on other themed pages because they cover more than one topic.
Jude Noland: People should care because without electricity just about anything that they do would be impossible. We have developed a society that is very, very much based on technology and on using electricity. The problem is that you don't buy electricity per se. I mean it's something, it's a means to an end and so you don't, most people don't think about it at all. They think about what they get out of electricity. So this is a good time to try and take a step and think about what's behind what you're doing which is the electricity that makes all of that possible. The other reason people should think about it now is because we are at a point where as you mentioned before that we're at a point where the extra supply that we've sort of had in the region is diminishing and we're going to have to make some choices about where we get our electricity in the future and we've seen what's happened since the energy crisis of 2000, 2001 that hit California and had a dramatic impact on the northwest. And we have to decide where we want to go from here because we saw prices go up dramatically after that crisis and we really didn't get a lot for those price increases. We didn't get a lot of new resources. So we're going to have to be really careful about what choices we make in terms of what provides power in the future and decide what we do want to risk and what are we willing to pay and what are we willing to put up with basically to continue to use electricity.
Ralph Cavanagh: Well there's a, we run a risk here, which with Peter Johnson in the room I can't let us run here, because I remember some things he did. If we distinguish sharply, if we say, well we talk, first we'll talk about how we produce it and then we'll talk about how we use it, as if those were completely independent, and it was Senator McClure I think who had a hand in the first legislation in the United States that said we are going to treat energy efficiency -- ways of getting more work out of less energy -- as a resource equivalent to production, and we're going, we're going to weigh them against each other and we're going to pick the best buys first. Peter of course you had to do it for the first time. And I just got to say we cannot talk about electric generation in isolation from decisions about use; we ought to be looking at them together. And the philosophy of the northwest and the legislation Senator McClure got through in 1980. I think it came down to a fundamental philosophy of let's just buy only what we need, pick the best buys first, treat energy efficiency options on equal terms with generation, and, you know, the leading resource developed in the Pacific Northwest over the past 25 years wasn't gas, wasn't coal, wasn't nuclear. It was energy efficiency.
Peter Johnson: I'm going to jump in here. We made great leaps you know into the demand side and management . . . onset of energy needs. Back in the '80s after Senator McClure gave us that wonderful Northwest Power Act we made a lot of progress and but going back to the beginning Jude I think that one of the things a I've been thinking about this thing recently is that we have to somehow push the, the need to be concerned about energy down to the consumer, down to the meter, down to the people who are using it for these many, many things that you mentioned are so important. And it won't be just the directors and the administrators and the president of the United States that are worried about energy and how to use it and use it efficiency it will be virtually everybody who consumes it. And I don't think we've done as good, we've been sort of pushing it down from the top. We tried to do that a little bit, went to Hood River and completely electrified the whole place or at least we you know weatherized all of the homes and the people got with it once they were into it and we have to find a way to do that too. I think we're too back, too far back with all of the different options and failing to realize that one of our best allies are the people who are consuming the electricity because demand side you know approaches to solving our energy problems and we've been spoiled because the price has been so low for years and years and years. In the early part of the 20th century every 20 years I think rates went down about 20%, now they're going to go back up again and I think even though the Energy Information Administration says they're going to be level or go down between now and 2007 I'm rather inclined to believe they're going to go up and go up a lot because of a lot of the things that are troubling our industry at the present time. We're going to have a lot of generation, base generation and that's going to be expensive. But the people have to be just as involved right down at the point of consumption.
Jude Noland: And that's a very, very difficult thing to pull off.
Corbin McNeill: It's very difficult.
Jude Noland: And we've tried probably not as hard as we could have, but, but really wWhen you think about a society and life that's so complex -- when you get home from work in the evening do you really want to have to sit and think, Well, let's see -- if I run my dishwasher now before dinner because I'm out of dishes it's going to cost me five cents a kilowatt hour, but if I could just hold off and set it to go on automatically at 10:00 it'll only be two? Most people really don't want to get into that kind of detail in how they use their appliances or how their house works. That's why I think things like efficient building standards in fact Oregon just upgraded, is upgrading its commercial standards I understand.
Jude Noland: It makes so much sense because if you, if you build it in ahead of time if you put it in to the infrastructure it's much cheaper to do it that way then to go back and try and retrofit it and so it's just cheaper. It is using less electricity up front; people don't have to think about it. It's not such a big deal if you you know leave the, your kids open the refrigeration and runs across the kitchen for a few seconds if you're using one of those super efficient refrigerators which market transformation policies have brought to market here in the northwest. It's not as big of deal if you leave the door open for a second if the house is really energy efficient and when the door closes it closes really airtight.
Corbin McNeill: But, but those transitions take a long, long time that's a 20 year, how often do people normally replace their refrigerator or their washing machine? That's a 15-year and to do it in shorter periods in time goes back to the issue that the Senator McClure had is that you have to subsidize people to go do that and while that may make sense on a very broad scale policy issue it is difficult to get public acceptance of that in large measure.
Michael Grainey: Well, I, I'd like to address that because in Oregon we've seen a lot of public acceptance and a lot of individual decisions by individual businesses, consumers, homeowners, individual schools, . . . conservation and renewable resources. They've had over 5,000 business invest over $100 million dollars in each of the last two years on energy efficiency measures. That helped them weather the enormous price fights [hikes] we had in the power market and stay in business and keep people employed, keep their jobs. We've had over 100,000 energy efficient appliances replaced in Oregon through our State Tax Credit program. We did upgrade our building code, but in both residential and the commercial code with the upgrades we've made over the last 20 years series of time the residential code is helping consumers save $100 million dollars a year in energy costs and our businesses through the commercial codes $75 million a year. And in total Oregon consumers are saving over $400 million dollars in energy bills. Energy bills that otherwise go out of the state and in some cases go out of the country. We have no coal in Oregon, we have no petroleum, we have a little bit of natural gas, we have no uranium, well we do have a little bit of uranium and we're still cleaning it up from the mining experience 50 years ago. So all of these sources of energy that play a role will continue to play a role, we think it's very important in Oregon that they be used wisely and efficiently and it doesn't mean doing without, but it means doing better with what we have. Even with the new energy code that we built we have new schools being built now with the design being built in right to new sustainability standards they use less than half the energy that buildings built to the new energy code can do, there's an awful lot that can be done through energy conservation, energy efficiency.
Peter Johnson: I would say that I think the emphasis is on demand side management, efficiency and conservation more today than it's ever been before. And the simple reason is that this exercise in, experiment in deregulation has not worked. It is dismembered; it is, we're, we're in a crisis; most utilities can't even finance their base resources, not at this time anyway. Heaven knows how we're going to get through that as we try to get our feet back on the ground after this experiment in deregulation. But so all the more reason why right now, today? And for the next 10, 20 years demand side management, in other words efficiency and conservation, are going to be at the forefront of how we best deal with this problem that we've created.
Jude Noland: And that's one of the big problems, that's one of the big reasons that energy efficiency and conservation has, has not it I think going back to what you said Peter I think after the Northwest Power Act passed in the 1980 the '80s was a time of incredible growth in conservation activities a lot of utilities in the northwest were very creative in terms of things that they came up with, programs that they could do. With the start of the move towards deregulation and the Energy Policy Act of the early '90s utilities kind of stopped because they're saying well we don't know if we're going to have to do this. We don't know if we're going to get reimbursed for it. And so a lot of that activity as well as transmission, infrastructure upgrades and new generation all of that was put on hold because no one knew what was going to happen as the industry started down this path towards restructuring. So I think now is the time when we're coming back and conservation is seeing a much bigger emphasis you're seeing utilities get back into least cost planning where they take a look at what all these different resources are going to cost them to provide to their customers. And the other thing I wanted to point out is with the new technologies in terms of meter reading and other things you could take that away, the individual customer doesn't have to think about whether its costing him 5 a kilowatt hour at this point or 2 later you can do direct control of water heaters where people don't even know that the utility has turned the water heater down during a certain period. It can all be done automatically and not affect the lifestyle or the activities of the person in the household.
Jim McClure: But you've touched on something that I have to return to for a moment. There has to be an incentive whether it's a base load or a transmission system or an individual consumer there has to be an incentive of some kind. It doesn't have to be economic, but the ones that seem to work best seem to be economic. So there has to be a reason why people do these things in order to affect their own bottom-line whether it's a homeowner or a business or a base load provider or the transmission system. And we ought to be spending more time trying to find the ways in which we structure the, the systems that we all use in order to make sure that the people who have to make investments or pay bills have an incentive to do it in the way that's most constructive for our society.
Mark Maher: We're looking at a least cost planning process as we rebuild this transmission system of Bonneville's reinforcing in the various areas of the utilities that we serve of looking at conservation measures for demand side management because it is becoming extremely difficult to site and build new transmission, even expand current transmission corridors that we have. We're also part of a 18 member panel that Bonneville is, is sponsoring and that is looking at screening criteria on all new projects that we'll be looking at our transmission and I believe we've identified three pilot projects that we're going to be looking at the demand side management.
Corbin McNeill: I argue that you don't need to do it, you need to have an economic design that a somebody's willing to invest in. The public, public, my argument is, is that public confidence will be built over a period of time by the successful operation of current plants, by the licensing of Yucca Mountain, and then 50 years from now from the potential non-proliferation resistant reprocessing of fuel.
Peter Johnson: When nuclear was first approved the Congress was behind it solidly, reprocessing of the fuel rods and one thing another, there were a number of other technologies that were taking a great deal of money. But I think what we have to look at today is the fact that we've run out of money. Our federal government's run out of money. I think our utilities have run out of money; they can't even finance, for heavens sake, what they need today. There's going to have to be a selection made of the premier options and again I believe that demand-side management, conservation, efficiency has to be right up at the front because I think there is, that's one of the best ways we have. The title of our program, the Price of Power, if we want to keep the price down I think it will do a better job of it by putting a great emphasis right now. We can buy some time until the money catches up with those three or four technologies that should lead us into the future, but I think that, that one of the reasons we haven't gotten very far with several of 'em is simply because we were trying to do too many and we don't have the money to do that anymore.
Ralph Cavanagh: Or dependent on utility contracts to do anything and so I think as, as the public tries to sort out how is this going to play out, what's going to happen the big utilities of the west -- the Idaho Powers, the PacificCorps', Pacific Gas and Electric when it emerges from bankruptcy in the wreckage of the California restructuring -- what decisions they make, what incentives they face and how they figure out to bring their customers into some of this, that's why this is really going to play out and happily everybody has a hometown utility and sometimes the hometown utility's policies are a whole lot easier to influence as you know Senator then a distant capitals on the east coast. And I think all of us would encourage folks who care about these issues to learn more about what the local utility's doing, what is it investing in energy efficiency, what efforts is it making to tap into those opportunities that Peter Johnson identified. What renewable energy options is it seeking. What's its long-term perspective on nuclear and fossil? These issues are being played out in every hometown utility in the west and that's where the real action will be for the foreseeable future on all of this.
Jim McClure: But there, there you get back to what I said a moment ago and that is don't expect policy makers to make policies that are not supported by the public.
Ralph Cavanagh: There are a wealth of resources available to members of the public two, two things we talked a lot about today, one is use energy more efficiently where increasingly your local utility is helping and there are a wealth of options available to you and I, like Senator McClure, am a technology optimist in this though we're probably optimistic about slightly different technologies. On renewables, if you like renewables, you can invest in them directly through your, through your utility bill increasingly across the Northwest that's possible. There are institutions like the Bonneville Environmental Foundation that let you, if you want to wherever you are in the country simply buy out your pollution emissions associated with your electricity use if it's important to you as an ethical matter to do that. I do that, I encourage others to do it.
Mark Maher: From a local level utilities more and more are having least cost planning and having public meetings. Get involved. Go to those meetings, express yourselves, understand what those issues are. I encourage folks to do that. We'll be embarking on several public processes in Bonneville, and I just ask people to get involved and give us your input.
Corbin McNeill: Look at what is happening in your local arena and becoming knowledgeable, staying current on that and looking for the advantages that you can achieve. I last year Bonneville through my local cooperative offered a big energy savings discount and I didn't pay an electric bill for like six months, but.
Jim McClure: Pay attention to the regulatory climate. One of the great problems across the country, we move to put public utility, regulatory commissions that were elected by the public and they were elected as you might guess by those who promise the most to the consumer. And consumers were inclined to look for the bargains without looking at the internalized costs and I think that the consumer needs to be better educated about the choices and insist that their regulatory commissions reflect those choices.
Peter Johnson: You say they should be better educated. I come back to Mark. At the Bonneville Power Administration we weren't getting anything done until we began to consult with the public, and then we could do just about anything that was worthwhile and necessary. But to try to move without keeping the people who were going to be the beneficiaries of efficiency and conservation and energy -- they've got to be involved and that comes from the utility, it comes from the federal government, it comes from all of us around this table because I think once you commit to that process of decision-making you have unbelievable earned power, earned power people would put a trust in you. We've got to do that with the nuclear option. Absolutely essential, essential. If it is disengaged from the public in its advancement, you know it will be just what Senator McClure says -- if the public doesn't want it, we're not going to have that.
Kathryn McCarthy: Right people, people really do need to become better informed and part of the burden for that is on those of us in the nuclear industry to help them to do that.
Jude Noland: Just the only other thing I would say is this is such a complicated subject and issue people can start by actually reading their utility bill because nowadays your utility will usually tell you the where the power that you use comes from and gives you an option as Ralph mentioned that if you want to pay a little extra to buy wind power you can do that. So you can start by looking at your utility bill, try and understand what's in there and what your utility is doing. Lots of people spend time surfing the web there's lot of sources of energy information on the, on the internet, so start that way, find things that you're interested in and Google 'em.
Ralph Cavanagh: But of course we don't want to have to rely solely on volunteers to solve national environmental problems and so the other, if you read your utility bill and can't understand it, if you don't know where the power is coming from and don't see the energy efficiency investments then the hometown utility remains a crucial point of leverage as an investor for all of us.
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