Efficiency Exchange 2014 Recap: How the Pacific Northwest Is Different

The Pacific Northwest Is Different

Jeff Perkins for Zondits, May 16, 2014

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) and the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) recently held their annual Efficiency Exchange conference at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers in Kennewick, WA. The location was a fitting metaphor for energy efficiency in the Pacific Northwest, which is itself a confluence of actions across the region that has yielded an efficiency experience every bit as mighty as the Columbia.

Amid the atomic tumult of the late ‘70s, when nuclear plant construction cost overruns were laying bare the overselling of both the need and the technology, the region coalesced around efficiency. As Seabrook (NH) was hammered by protests, Shoreham (NY) was piling up debt, and Three Mile Island (PA) was melting down, cost estimates for every nuclear plant conceived in the US skyrocketed. The nuclear industry had stumbled in spectacular fashion, and everyone, even those who had bought in to the pitch, began to ask the question “Why?” or “Is there another way?” That part of the story is the same everywhere. It is the response that would set regions apart.

While states as diverse as California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin took various actions to embrace efficiency, the Pacific Northwest did so with remarkable vigor. Other states approached it more piecemeal, with individual utilities and organizations taking separate and sometimes competing leads, but the Northwest embraced it in unison as a region. And they can be proud of the results. They created and empowered groups like NEEA, the Regional Technical Forum, and the Energy Trust of Oregon to lead the way—and lead they have. Becoming models for everyone, these organizations and the region have set the bar for program development, codes and standards evolution, and energy efficiency implementation, all in a region that has the cheapest electricity on the planet. Quite a feat indeed!

With such a strong history it should be no surprise that the Northwest Efficiency Exchange, which had its inaugural event as a joint NEEA/BPA undertaking last year, is already becoming a prominent event in the industry. More than 400 participants from across the country enjoyed first-rate presentations over two days, covering the full range of topics as seen in the word cloud above. When you attend this event you sense that the Pacific Northwest is somehow different when it comes to energy efficiency, and over the course of three days you come away with a better understanding of why that is. If you missed it this year, you should mark your calendars to be there next year.

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