Utilities: Count The Environmental Effects, Please, with Integrated Resource Planning

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Utilities: Pretty please. Be sure to use integrated resource planning when strategizing about your resource acquisitions. In the US and abroad, such planning will boost energy efficiency, lower costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower fuel-price volatility risks for utilities and consumers, use less land—because fewer power plants will be built—and result in higher approval ratings by utility customers.

That’s the word from a new report by International Rivers, which says that more and more US utilities are embracing planning that addresses resource projects’ costs to society, including wildlife conservation, air and water quality, and other environmental and social issues. Integrated resource planning also invites all stakeholders in the process to voice their concerns as early as possible.

Integrated resource planning makes more sense than the more conventional practice—focusing on least-cost, short-term planning, says Zachary Hurwitz, policy coordinator, International Rivers Policy Program.

“This is a model for energy planning that internalizes the true costs of energy projects. The outcome of that is a tendency to point to energy efficiency as some of the most cost-effective steps that anyone can take,” he says.

About 28 US states take advantage of integrated resource planning, he says. International Rivers is now focusing on ensuring this planning is also embraced abroad. The World Bank recently published a new energy sector strategy paper, saying it’s interested in larger, riskier investment, and is focusing on Africa and Asia, he says. “We’re concerned about the impacts of large dams. We want to promote at the level of the World Bank why integrated resource planning is necessary,” Hurwitz says.

In the US, Seattle City Light has seen big benefits from its integrated resource planning process. “Conservation was introduced into the resource mix over 30 years ago and has remained the resource of first choice for the utility to meet load growth,” says Seattle City Light press materials.

“The conservation partnership between the utility and its customers has successfully deferred acquisition of expensive new resources, especially those that negatively affect the environment,” the press materials say. Between 1977 and 2009, the residential, commercial and industrial conservation programs have saved more than 15 million MWh. In 2009, efficiency saved 14.2 average MW, avoiding 74,600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s like 16,600 cars off the road for a year.

Learn more about  International Rivers’ new report on integrated resource planning here: An Introduction to Integrated Resources Planning.

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