The Pacific Northwest’s energy system—including its oil and natural gas pipelines, and electricity transmission lines—is highly insecure, reported 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 found 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 Oregon, Washington, and Idaho each day in 2004—more than $10 billion a year.

“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 jobs and profits.”

Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said, “The late Senator Paul Tsongas called attention to the vulnerability of our energy system to sabotage in his book The Road From Here. Now, almost 25 years later it is time to take this problem seriously. The recommendations in this report would not only enhance the security of our energy system, they would also reduce the cost of energy in the region.”

The region covered includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, 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 the Northwest’s high energy use. In 2004, despite higher prices, the Northwest’s energy use increased slightly and remained in the same high range where it’s been stuck for 25 years. On average, each resident of the Northwest states consumes the equivalent of 16 gallons of gasoline in highway fuels and nonindustrial electricity a week— 45 percent more than BC residents.
  • Harms economy and environment: The Northwest states send $30 million a day out of the region to buy petroleum and natural gas, forfeiting this money from the states’ economies; British Columbia is a gas exporter, but increasing its efficiency will allow it to earn more through exports. 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; and 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 security and efficiency. 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.

By joining with Canada, California, and seven other US states that have already committed to similar standards, they 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 region from price hikes and pipeline disruptions.

Second, the region could enable utilities to aggressively pursue energy efficiency by “decoupling” 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 has 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.

“Here in the Northwest, investments in energy efficiency could meet almost half of the predicted growth in demand for electricity over the next 20 years for about half the cost of building new power plants,” said Melinda Eden, Chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. ”Building energy efficiency before building power plants meets our energy needs for less cost—environmental cost as well as monetary cost. To the extent that building energy efficiency means we build fewer power plants, our energy system also becomes less vulnerable and more secure.”

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 have a “snowball” effect on efficiency by encouraging manufacturers to make it a priority in product design.

“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 reports the region’s progress on six other trends critical to the region’s future: health, economy, population, forests, sprawl, and pollution. Good news included 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, 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 is a Seattle-based nonprofit research and communication center that monitors progress toward a sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascadia Scorecard is available at

February 25, 2005