This article from Saturday’s Seattle P-I warmed my heart:  Seattle-area utilities are apparently taking energy conservation much more seriously.  In some ways, of course, the utilities have to do this.  New power plants are expensive, and fuelling them is becoming even moreso, so utilities may no longer have the luxury of simply adding new plants to meet rising demand for electricity. 

The utilities are going about promoting conservation in an especially smart way, using a process called "least cost planning"—in which the utilities evaluate a bunch of different energy saving ideas for cost effectiveness, and then make the best buys first.  This is a great idea, since it gets the cheap energy savings up front—meaning that there’s more money to invest in other energy-saving ideas down the road.  Puget Sound Energy is actually running a lot of pilot projects right now, trying to find out how much money and energy different strategies will save.  From the article…

Puget [Sound Energy] is testing…such ideas as getting industrial customers to "tune up" their boilers, to see if that not only cuts fuel consumption but proves cheaper than buying brand new boilers. It is investigating whether it can avoid the expense of expanding an electrical substation by getting residential electric heating customers in a particular area to convert to gas.

Puget has also worked with restaurants to test low-flow spray heads to rinse dishes before they’re put in a commercial dishwasher. So far, Shirley said, the test shows that using such spray heads cuts water use by 60 percent and gas use by 20 to 30 percent.

Mobile homes, Shirley said, often "hemorrhage a lot of Btus" because heating ducts have developed gaps or weren’t well insulated to begin with.

Puget is also testing whether single-family homes built from the 1950s to the 1970s can be effectively "weatherized" without creating moisture or dry-rot problems.

The utility recently concluded a program in Whatcom and Skagit counties in which it offered $35 to customers who turned in working, pre-1995 second refrigerators and freezers. Shirley said the offer proved popular enough that it will likely be converted to a regular offer by Puget.

The savings yielded by any particular strategy may be small, but they definitely add up.  In fact, energy analysts (including the folks at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the coordinating body for utilities in all the Columbia River basin and beyond) believe that the cheapest and most environmentally benign source of new energy for the foreseeable future isn’t wind or solar (much less coal, natural gas, or nuclear power).  It’s simple efficiency—doing the same amount of work using vastly less energy.  That’s an idea the everyone can get behind.