The Pacific Northwest’s energy system—including its oil and natural gas pipelines, and electricity transmission lines—is highly insecure, reports Cascadia Scorecard 2005, an annual report released today by Seattle-based Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch) that tracks seven key trends critical to the region. The report finds that the Northwest is reliant on a few gas and oil pipelines that are almost impossible to secure against determined attackers; that the region’s energy efficiency stagnated in 2004; and that spending on petroleum and natural gas drained an estimated $30 million out of the economies of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington each day in 2004—$4 million a day from Idaho alone.

“Our energy system is highly vulnerable on several fronts,” said Alan Durning, Sightline’s executive director and lead author of the report. “But the good news is that there is a solution that pays for itself. A clean-energy revolution that is already gathering force promises to make our energy system resilient to attack even while it generates profits and jobs.”

The region covered includes Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Key findings include:

  • Vulnerable oil and gas pipelines: The Northwest states get the majority of their oil from Alaska through a few oil pipelines that are highly exposed to sabotage. The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline, for example, which provides most of Oregon and Washington’s oil, has already been sabotaged once, bombed twice, and shot more than 50 times. The Pentagon has declared it indefensible. The region’s natural gas pipelines are more explosive than oil pipelines, and—unlike oil—gas has no alternative mode of transport.
  • Unstable power: The regional power network’s two dozen main transmission lines are vulnerable to attacks with weapons or even common tools. Losing only two key lines could lead to cascading blackouts.
  • Triple threat: Many of the region’s pipelines share routes with each other and with power lines. In at least one place, a night’s work with a backhoe could sever vital arteries for oil, natural gas, and electricity.
  • Energy use increasing: The region’s energy insecurity is compounded by its high energy use. Idaho consumes more energy per person than any other Northwest jurisdiction—the equivalent of 16.7 gallons of gasoline in highway fuels and nonindustrial electricity a week, 50 percent more than British Columbian residents (11 gallons). In 2004, Idaho’s energy use decreased slightly but remained in the same high range where it has been stuck for 25 years.
  • Harms economy and environment: Idaho sends $4 million a day out of state to buy petroleum and natural gas, forfeiting this money from the state’s economy. Energy price spikes are leading triggers of inflation and recession. Environmental impacts of the energy system include damage to wild salmon runs by hydropower dams; fossil-fuel combustion that is responsible for most of the region’s emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases; and oil spills from tankers.

The Scorecard recommends investing in technologies, business models, and policy approaches that promise to dramatically increase energy efficiency and security. It highlights three top strategies:

First, the Northwest states could speed the transition to a more efficient vehicle fleet by adopting stronger standards for new vehicle emissions, which would trim petroleum use by up to 30 percent in new vehicles by 2016 and give consumers greater access to hybrid vehicles and other advanced-technology cars and trucks. Oregon is considering “clean-car” standards, as recommended by a citizen’s advisory board; and Washington is voting on a clean-car bill in the 2005 legislative session.

Clean cars would help accelerate the auto industry’s design of ultra-fuel-efficient vehicles. When combined with greater use of alternative fuels, such vehicles would serve as a highly decentralized “strategic petroleum reserve,” protecting the state from price hikes and pipeline disruptions.

Second, Idaho could enable utilities to aggressively pursue energy efficiency, which Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) has identified as the biggest and cheapest source of new energy in its next 20-year plan. One of the most promising steps is for state regulators to “decouple” utilities’ profits from sales—allowing them to make money by selling less energy. NW Natural, a Portland-based gas company, is the only Northwest utility that’s decoupled rates, but a brief decoupling experiment helped turn Seattle-area Puget Sound Power and Light (now part of Puget Sound Energy) into an efficiency leader in the mid-1990s.

The report notes the Northwest is already seeing an emerging base of businesses in advanced materials, green buildings, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. Idaho, for example, could become a producer of a quick-maturing technology called cellulose ethanol, an alternative fuel made from crop and forest residues and urban wastes. The Canadian firm Iogen is hoping to build a 50-million-gallon-a-year cellulose ethanol facility in Idaho, which would likely spend $30 million a year on straw. Best estimates are that the Northwest could meet at least 5 percent and possibly more than 20 percent of its current gasoline demand with cellulose ethanol.

Third, the region could introduce point-of-purchase incentives called feebates—fees charged to the buyers of less-efficient products that fund rebates given to the buyers of more-efficient ones. Feebates would encourage manufacturers to design more efficient products.

“A clean, efficient, resilient energy system can make Northwest energy bombproof, serve as a powerful job generator, and keep up to an additional $10 billion a year circulating in the region’s economy,” said Durning.

Cascadia Scorecard 2005 also reported the region’s progress on six other trends critical to the region’s future: health, economy, population, forests, sprawl, and pollution. Good news includes gains in life expectancy and a rapid increase in certification of forestlands by the Forest Stewardship Council. But overall, the Scorecard suggests that the Northwest has stalled since 2000, after major making gains in the 1990s—with the worst “scores” in energy and sprawl.

The Scorecard also marks how far the region is from reaching a real-world goal for each indicator, including Japan for health and Germany for energy efficiency. It estimates that it would take Cascadia an average of 32 years of slow-and-steady progress to catch up with what the world’s leaders on each trend have achieved.

Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch) is a Seattle-based nonprofit research and communication center that monitors progress toward a sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest. TThe Cascadia Scorecard is available at

February 25, 2005