The Pacific Northwest’s energy system—including its oil and natural gas pipelines, and power-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 Washington, Oregon, and Idaho each day in 2004—$17 million a day from Washington 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 jobs and profits.”

A key first step for Washington is to dramatically increase vehicle fuel efficiency by adopting stronger auto emissions standards. “Cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars will help put Washington on the road to energy security, while saving consumers money,” said Representative Ed Murray, who is sponsoring 2005 legislation to adopt “clean-car” emission standards. “Let’s stop sending money out of the region and put it back into Washington.”

The region covered includes Washington, Oregon, 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 Washington and Oregon’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 even two key lines could lead to cascading blackouts.
  • Triple threat: Many of the region’s pipelines share routes with each other and with powerlines. 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, Washington’s energy use increased slightly, remaining in the same high range where it’s been stuck for 25 years. On average, each resident consumes the weekly equivalent of 15.8 gallons of gasoline in highway fuels and nonindustrial electricity—45 percent more than BC residents.
  • Harms economy and environment: Washington sends $17 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 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 Washington is poised to do if it passes 2005 “clean-car” legislation. Phased in from 2009 to 2016, “clean-car” standards would trim petroleum use by up to 30 percent in new vehicles by 2016; and give consumers greater access to hybrids and other advanced-technology cars. Hybrid vehicles are increasingly popular among the state’s residents, outnumbering Hummers six to one.

And by joining with Canada, California, and seven other US states that have already committed to similar standards, Washington would 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, the region could enable utilities to aggressively pursue energy efficiency. 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. A brief decoupling experiment helped turn Puget Sound Power and Light (now part of Puget Sound Energy) into an efficiency leader in the mid-1990s. Decoupling would also spur utilities to adopt technology such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s “smart-grid” electronic tools, which radically decentralize grid management and make it resilient in the face of power disruptions.

Third, the states 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, which could be applied to new vehicles and energy-using appliances, would have a “snowball” effect on efficiency by encouraging manufacturers to make it a priority in product design.

The report notes the Northwest is already seeing an emerging base of businesses in advanced materials, green buildings, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

“Energy efficiency is a powerful job generator for the region, saving local businesses money on energy costs and employing local workers to implement the technology,” said Ash Awad, of McKinstry Company, a Pacific Northwest construction, engineering, and energy services firm, and president of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council’s board. “With $20-$30 million in energy projects a year, McKinstry keeps more than 50 engineers and project managers working, and brings work to an additional 200 to 300 trade allies.”

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 includes gains in life expectancy and a rapid increase in certification of forestlands by the Forest Stewardship Council. But overall, the Northwest has stalled since 2000, after making major gains in the 1990s—with the worst “scores” in energy and sprawl.

The Scorecard 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