The most important new power source in the Northwest over the next five years will be…nothing at all!

OK, that sounds a little cryptic. But the real news is exciting: the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (the people who figure out how to keep the lights on and the power flowing throughout the region) are planning to meet new electricity demand through conservation—paying people to use electricity more efficiently—rather than by building new power plants. They’re looking to save about 700 megawatts over the next 5 years.

This is a smart strategy for many reasons. I’ll just mention two.

First, conservation is cost effective: it’s much cheaper to pay for conservation than for new power plants (and the fossil fuels they burn). The Council estimates that it will cost about $1.3 billion to pay for its conservation plan. That’s expensive, but it’s about $2 billion cheaper than a “business as usual” strategy.

Second, it’s the least risky choice. The price of natural gas is volatile, and North American supplies are vulnerable to disruption and appear to be on the decline. Building new power plants would subject the region to even greater price uncertainties—and make us even more vulnerable to energy price shocks and political instability in distant parts of the globe. Conservation makes us more independent, and our economy more resilient.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plan is implemented. The devil, surely, will be in the details. And so will the excitement.