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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Hargreaves

Net Zero Northwest

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

The Clean Energy Transition Institute (CETI) released the Net-Zero Northwest Energy Pathways and Health Impact analyses (Net-Zero Northwest), a comprehensive economic and technical analysis that outlines pathways to achieve net-zero emissions in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington by 2050. Evolved Energy Research provided the analytics.

Net-Zero Northwest provides guidance for policymakers, utilities, government agencies, advocates, and businesses that are advancing the clean energy transition in the Northwest. Top-level findings include:

  • The Northwest is poised to lead on decarbonization, particularly with clean fuels.

  • Siting and permitting will shape the region’s new energy map.

  • Federal funding is boosting nascent clean energy technologies.

  • Reduced tailpipe and smokestack emissions bring health and economic co-benefits.

  • An equitable clean energy transition is not a given and must be planned with authentic community engagement.

Critical Decade to Make Progress

The 2020s are a critical decade—not just for the Pacific Northwest, but for the entire country—to see if we can get on the path to rapid carbon emissions reductions. With a relatively clean electric grid, bold climate policies, and federal funding incentivizing clean energy, our region could be a proving ground for how to achieve net-zero emissions. But how do we get on that path?

Net-Zero Northwest focuses on the critical actions related to emissions reduction that must be made by 2030 to achieve a 2050 net-zero goal: electrification and transmission, clean electricity and fuels, and decarbonizing buildings and transportation.

Electrification and Clean Fuels Will Determine Success

Using clean electricity to decarbonize as many sectors as possible is key to a low-carbon future. The study finds that economy-wide electricity demand will more than double from 2021 to 2050, with new electric transportation responsible for more than half of the increase.

Since electric appliances are more energy efficient than gas-powered equivalents, keeping gas as a fuel source to heat and cool buildings while still meeting net-zero emissions targets results in higher energy demand across the economy by 2050 and drives up decarbonization costs.

Moving away from internal combustion engine to electric vehicles for transportation is also key to lowering energy costs during the transition to net-zero. By shifting to electric, the Northwest avoids spending money to produce clean liquid fuels.

Furthermore, the region’s 79 percent clean electricity grid and Washington’s ambitious goal to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 focus regional efforts on creating clean fuels now.

Transmission is Crucial for Decarbonization

Expanding transmission across the Northwest will lower total decarbonization costs and create more options for meeting net-zero goals. Planning must start now to overcome the challenges of building interstate transmission, and must be done by engaging authentically with the communities through which transmission lines may need to pass.

Reducing Pollutant Emissions Brings Health Benefits

Decarbonizing removes air pollutants, which could mean significant health benefits in the Northwest, including avoiding as many as 40 deaths per million people by 2050. Fewer deaths, fewer days of lost work, and fewer hospital admissions would also save as much as $8.9 billion across the region per year in 2050.

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