Northwest Power Act spawns advocacy coalition
In 1980, Pres. Jimmy Carter signed into law the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act. Mark Reis, who had been a staffer for Rep. Jim Weaver of Oregon during the three-year struggle to pass the bill, recognized that energy was not the prime focus of any of the groups that had played key roles in advancing the legislation. Reis saw that a regional advocacy organization would be needed to keep the Bonneville Power Administration focused on the letter and intent of the new law.
Around 25 organizations, mostly environmental groups but also several unions including United Food and Commercial Workers, formed what was then called the Northwest Conservation Act Coalition. Subscription sales of the Coalition’s first regular publication, the Northwest Conservation Act Report, kept the fledgling Coalition afloat during its early years.
By 1983, the Coalition’s expert analyses of energy issues already were affecting regional energy policy. The Northwest Power Planning (now Northwest Power and Conservation) Council’s 1983 regional power plan mirrored the Coalition’s own Model Plan, adopted a year earlier.
By the end of the 80s, the Coalition had convinced regulators in all four Northwest states – Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington – to require investor-owned utilities to do least-cost plans that prioritized cost-saving energy efficiency.
The following years brought impressive policy advances in energy efficiency, renewable energy and consumer/low-income protection, and intensified activity around the recovery of salmon and steelhead endangered by the federal hydrosystem. The Coalition grew to encompass more than 100 organizations, including several publicly and investor-owned utilities.
Along the way, the Coalition launched or helped to launch a number of now-independent groups, including the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, the Renewable Northwest Project, Northwest SEED, Northwest Energy Efficiency Council and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
A new name, an expanding mission
In 1997, the organization’s name was changed to the NW Energy Coalition, reflecting a mission that had long transcended the now historic Northwest Power and Conservation Act.
In the next five years, in addition to its ongoing policy and advocacy work, the Coalition commissioned or developed a series of documents that have set the stage for most of our current and future endeavors.
The 2002 Tellus Institute study, “Clean Energy Options for the Pacific Northwest,” showed that the region can easily meet all potential load growth and replace the power from the four fish-killing Lower Snake River dams with bill-reducing energy efficiency and competitive renewable electricity.
The Tellus study informed 2003’s Coalition authored “Citizens Energy Plan”, a dynamic document containing region-wide and state-by-state prescriptions for clean energy policy change. The Plan guided our outreach and messaging on BPA’s Regional Dialogue and on the Power and Conservation Council’s draft 5th Northwest Power and Conservation Plan.
When the final 5th Plan came out in 2004, virtually duplicating Tellus’ energy efficiency numbers and calling for meeting almost all increased needs with efficiency and renewables, the Coalition and its allies had what they needed to achieve a series of stunning victories for Northwest clean energy in 2005-6 and set the stage for even greater victories to come.
For a more in-depth history of the Coalition, including remembrances from former staff and a detailed timeline, please see the 25th-anniversary edition of The Energy Activist, which you can download here.