About 85 percent of the Northwest's new power needs over the next 20 years can be achieved through conservation, according to a new plan being developed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
Wind and natural gas sources should provide the rest of the new power, the council proposed.
The Portland-based council was created by Congress in 1980 and drafts a regional power plan every five years for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The next one is due by the end of this year.
"When we save energy in our home that means we don't have to go out and build new sources of generation that could potentially be big pollution emitters," said Lizzie Rubado with Energy Trust of Oregon.
The council sets policy for the federal Bonneville Power Administration, which sells electricity to 147 of the region's utilities.
"We have identified immense resources of conservation," said Tom Carrier, a council member from Washington state.
Northwest states are among national leaders in finding cost-effective conservation practices to stretch existing power supply, he said.
The council will debate the plan at its meeting in Spokane, which is due to end Wednesday. Any final decisions must be released to the public for 60 days of comment before a new plan is issued in December.
Among the predictions in the plan:
--Energy efficiency could reduce power use by 5,800 megawatts over the next 20 years, eliminating the need to build more coal plants and thus reducing greenhouse gases.
--A smart grid and other technologies will make the energy system more efficient and decentralized, improving its reliability and safety.
--Plug-in electric vehicles may become part of the energy system, and could be recharged at night and other off-peak times.
--The region will preserve and improve the capability of the hydroelectric system while providing improved conditions for salmon and steelhead migration.
The council said conservation is already the region's third largest source of power at 12 percent, after hydro (55 percent) and coal (18 percent).
In the past three decades, conservation has allowed the region to reduce power demand by 3,700 megawatts, enough to power three cities the size of Seattle, council spokesman John Harrison said. That eliminated the need to build up to six new power plants, he said.
The new plan envisions the Northwest actually using less power in 10 years than it does now, even as the population rises, he said.
Council member Dick Wallace of Washington said conservation measures cost less than half of what new power generation costs, and they don't add new carbon emissions.
However, the possible removal of four hydro dams on the Snake River to benefit salmon would likely require new natural gas plants to make up the lost power, Carrier said.
KGW Reporter Keely Chalmers contributed to this report.