Fossil Fuel Spending NW States, 2009If you ever wondered why we talk about the “fossil fuel roller coaster,” just take a gander at the chart to the right. Although energy consumption tends to be relatively stable, prices of oil, gas, and coal are unpredictable and incredibly volatile—which makes it hard for businesses and families to plan their finances. When fuel prices peak, people discover that they’ve under-invested in conservation and efficiency. When prices fall, they worry that the efficiency investments they made when prices were high won’t pay off.

Yep, it’s just like a roller coaster —except without any of the fun.

Last year, the ride continued. Fossil fuel spending in the Northwest states fell sharply in 2009 compared with the lofty peaks of 2008 when the region’s fossil fuel spending topped $28 billion. Nevertheless, coal, oil, and gas created a tremendous financial burden for the region:  $18.9 billion in 2009, all told, paid by Northwest businesses and residents. That’s $10.8 billion in Washington, $5.9 billion in Oregon, and $2.1 billion in Idaho.

Measured per capita, it all works out to over $1,500 per person per year. With unemployment as high as it was in 2009, it sure would have been nice if we could have kept some of that money closer to home, circulating among local businesses and residents. But instead of stimulating the local economy, we shipped almost all of that money to the parts of the world that actually produce oil and gas.

Still, I suppose things could have been worse. Indeed, they already are: oil prices for the first half of 2010 are already running well ahead of last year, for the second-highest January-to-June average ever recorded. So based on what we’ve seen so far in 2010, I expect we’ll see that green line spike up again soon. The no-fun roller coaster ride continues. Sigh.