Washington has the only crude oil refining capacity in the Pacific Northwest.
Washington’s economy developed around the fishing and logging industries during the 19th century. The state’s industrial base has expanded with increased access to abundant and affordable energy. Washington’s greatest energy supply comes from its significant renewable energy resources, especially hydroelectric power. The Columbia River, second only to the Mississippi River in the volume of its flow, enters Washington near the state’s northeastern corner and flows in an arc through the eastern half of the state, before forming much of the boundary between Washington and Oregon. Draining all of eastern Washington and the western slopes of the Cascade Range south of Mt. Rainier, the river provides water for some of the nation’s largest hydroelectric projects. The Grand Coulee Dam on Washington’s Columbia River is the largest hydropower producer in the United States. The dam’s power plant is the nation’s largest electricity generating facility of any kind when measured by capacity. Energy resources in Washington include little in the way of fossil fuels; however, the state has the only refining capacity in the Pacific Northwest. The climate ranges from the rainforest in the extreme western part of Washington, where the heaviest precipitation in the continental United States occurs, to near desert conditions in areas east of the Cascade Range. Crop residues from Washington’s agricultural areas in the east and those from the state’s western forests provide ample biomass, and many areas of the state are conducive to wind power development.
Washington is a leader in the energy-intensive forest products industry and in the manufacture of transportation equipment, primarily aircraft. The industrial sector and the transportation sector each account for almost three-tenths of end-use energy consumption in the state. The residential sector accounts for less than one-fourth of the state’s end-use energy consumption, in part because Washington’s more densely populated areas are west of the Cascade Range, where the summers are cool and comparatively dry, and the winters are mild. Overall energy consumption in Washington is well below the national average on a per capita basis, and electric power generation in Washington exceeds the state’s needs.
Washington leads the nation in electricity generation from renewable resources.
Washington leads the nation in electricity generation from renewable resources. More than three-fourths of the state’s net electricity generation originates from renewable resources, predominantly hydroelectric power, and, in 2015, Washington produced more than one-seventh of the electricity generated nationwide from these resources. Some renewable resources provide energy in forms other than electricity, such as biofuels and thermal energy from the wood used in wood stoves. When the production of those other types of energy are included, renewable resources account for more than nine-tenths of Washington’s total overall energy production.
Hydroelectric power provides more than two-thirds of Washington’s net electricity generation and nine-tenths of the state’s renewable power generation, but nonhydroelectric renewable energy sources also provide almost one-tenth of the state’s total net electricity generation. Washington is among the top 10 states in the nation in electricity generation from renewable resources other than hydropower. More than 3,000 megawatts of installed capacity make wind energy the second-largest contributor to the state’s renewable generation. Washington’s first utility-scale wind project came online in 2001, and development of resources, particularly along the Columbia Gorge, a high wind resource area, has continued in recent years. Washington is also a substantial producer of electricity from wood and wood waste, and the state accounts for almost 3% of the nation’s net electricity generation from biomass. Mountainous areas throughout the state and a major portion of the lowland areas west of the Cascades are covered by timber. Despite the large biomass resource, Washington generates almost four times as much electricity from wind as from biomass.
Washington has largely undeveloped low- and high-temperature geothermal resources, primarily in the Columbia Basin and in the southern Cascade Range. Although low-temperature geothermal resources do not support utility-scale projects, they have direct-use applications, such as providing heat for buildings, greenhouses, water, and geothermal heat pumps. Some of Washington’s natural hot and mineral spring spas use their hot waters to provide space heating. More than 900 low-temperature geothermal wells have been drilled in the Columbia Basin. Undeveloped high-temperature geothermal areas in Washington’s volcanic Cascade Range have an estimated electric potential of up to 300 megawatts. If fully developed, it is estimated that this 300-megawatt potential could produce about 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
Washington has several programs focused on energy independence, energy conservation, and energy efficiency. The state provides loans for the development of production and distribution facilities for biofuels created from agricultural product wastes from Washington’s almost 15 million acres of farmland and for electricity generation from anaerobic digestion. Facilities in Washington have the capacity to produce more than 100 million gallons of biodiesel fuels per year. The state’s Energy Independence Act, enacted in 2006, seeks energy independence for Washington, and the Pacific Northwest region as a whole, through increased energy conservation and through the use of appropriately sited renewable energy projects. The act, which created a renewable portfolio standard and an energy efficiency resource standard, requires utilities with at least 25,000 retail customers to obtain 15% of their electricity from qualified new renewable resources by 2020 and to undertake cost-effective energy conservation. In 2005, Washington became the first state in the country to adopt high-performance green building standards for new state-funded buildings.
Washington is the leading U.S. producer of hydroelectric power, routinely contributing more than one-fourth of the nation’s total net hydroelectric generation. Eight of the state’s 10 largest power plants are hydroelectric facilities, and most of them are located on the Columbia River. One of them, Grand Coulee, is the seventh largest power plant in the world and the world’s sixth largest hydroelectric plant. The largest hydroelectric facilities in the state are, at more than 60 years of age, among the oldest generating facilities in the nation. Those facilities were built by federal entities that continue to own or operate them. The Bonneville Power Administration, one of four federal power marketing administrations, is the marketer of electricity produced at the federal dams in Washington. Hydroelectric power typically accounts for between two-thirds and four-fifths of Washington’s electricity generation, providing abundant and inexpensive electricity to the region.
Natural gas-fired power plants, the state’s one nuclear power plant, wind turbines, a single coal-fired power plant, and, to a lesser extent, biomass, account for almost all of Washington’s remaining net electricity generation. The state’s two largest nonhydroelectric power plants by capacity are the coal-fired power plant and the nuclear generating station. Washington’s large coal-fired power plant has two coal-fired units. However, those units are scheduled to be decommissioned, one in 2020 and the other in 2025, as part of the state’s effort to reach a coal-free future for Washington. Conversion of the units to natural gas or construction of a new natural gas-fired power plant at the site is being considered. Nuclear power provides less than one-tenth of Washington’s net electricity generation. The state’s only nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station, has been in operation since 1984. It is located near the Columbia River in the south-central part of the state on the U. S. Department of Energy’s Hanford site.
Net electricity generation usually exceeds retail electricity sales in Washington. Because of its significant hydroelectric generating capacity, the state is an exporter of electricity to the Canadian power grid and supplies U.S. markets as far away as California and the Southwest. Large amounts of hydroelectric power leave Washington via the Western Interconnection, which runs from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, through Washington and Oregon to southern California and the northern part of Baja California, Mexico. The entire system covers all or parts of 14 states. Because of the relatively low operating costs of hydroelectric power generation, the state has the lowest average retail electricity prices in the nation. More than half of all Washington households are heated with electricity.
A small amount of natural gas was produced in south-central Washington in the mid-20th century, but there has not been any production in the state since then. Exploration wells drilled in the state have resulted in the development of Washington’s only natural gas storage field. Because Washington has no natural gas production, the state relies heavily on natural gas produced in Canada that is transported by pipeline to U.S. markets. About two-fifths of the natural gas entering the state comes from Canada. The Sumas Center, in Canada near the border between Washington and British Columbia, is the principal natural gas trading and transportation hub for the U.S. Northwest. The Northwest Pipeline bidirectional system supplies natural gas from Canada, from the Rocky Mountain region, and from the San Juan Basin in the U.S. Southwest to markets in western Washington. The Gas Transmission Northwest Pipeline enters the state from Idaho, bringing natural gas, primarily from Canada, to the eastern part of Washington. About two-thirds of the natural gas entering Washington flows south to Oregon and beyond.
In the past, the residential sector, where more than one-third of Washington households use natural gas as their primary energy source for home heating, had been the leading natural gas-consuming sector in Washington, followed closely by the industrial sector. Since 2013, the electric power sector has consumed the largest share.
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