During the California energy crisis in 2001, the Northwest’s aluminum smelters found that they could make more money by selling their electricity to California than by using it to produce aluminum. So they shut down. And most have remained shuttered since.
One consequence is that, according to the US Energy Information Administration, the Northwest states used less energy per resident in 2001 than in any year since 1965.
At first, the reduction in energy consumption may seem like reason to celebrate. Obviously, energy makes our lives better; but wasting it certainly doesn’t. And overconsumption of energy—both from fossil fuels and from hydro-electric dams—is a first-order environmental problem, contributing to air pollution, global warming, declining salmon runs, yada yada.
But celebration is probably a bit of a mistake. Just because aluminum smelters shut down here in the northwest doesn’t mean that Northwesterners are using less aluminum; much of the production has simply shifted to other parts of the globe. Outsourcing our climate warming emissions is no solution to anything.
What would really be cause for celebration, of course, would be if the Northwest states could reduce energy consumption without losing a major industry. That would be a real sign of progress. Simple declines in consumption are not.