The Northwest's regional load declined by 2.6 percent in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country. The commercial sector was hit hardest, with a 15 percent drop in load, while residential load rose 13 percent, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The region's overall load dropped from 19,551 aMW in 2019 to 19,052 aMW last year. Commercial load fell to 5,904 aMW, a 1,083 MW drop from 2019. Residential rose by 886 aMW to 7,685 aMW in 2020. Industry was 4,706 aMW last year, a 292 aMW drop from two years ago, according to a briefing by NWPCC Manager of Economic Analysis Massoud Jourabchi at the Council's Nov. 16 Power Committee meeting.

Washington consumed 51 percent of the region's electric load in 2020. Oregon made up 32 percent, Idaho 15 percent and the area of Montana in the Columbia Basin consumed 3 percent of the region's load.

After several years of steady growth, the regional economy contracted by 1.2 percent in 2020. Most of that decline was in Oregon, which accounts for one-fourth of the Northwest's economic activity. The state's economy declined by about 3 percent.

Washington, which makes up about 62 percent of the Northwest's economic activity, experienced a 0.6 percent economic decline last year. Montana's economy declined by 1.3 percent and Idaho's by 0.3 percent. The region lost 300,000 jobs in 2020, according to the presentation.

Some economic sectors benefitted from the pandemic, while others were battered. Air, rail and road transportation sectors were hard hit, as was the hospitality and dining sector. Economic output increased in the information technology, paper manufacturing and retail trade sectors, and in agriculture, forestry, and fishing and hunting industries.

Despite the drop in load, electric utilities' retail revenues continue to hover around $14 billion, where they have stayed since 2016. They have been declining since then and when adjusted for inflation retail revenues fell to $13 billion in 2020, according to the briefing.

Commercial and industrial rates fell for both consumer-owned utilities and IOUs from 2019 to 2020, after being adjusted for inflation. Average consumption per customer was lower at IOUs than COUs, which continue to have significantly lower rates.

Some of the differences in consumption per customer can be attributed to price, some is programmatic and some is structural, Jourabchi said.

On the structural side, businesses with large energy demand might have self-selected to set up in service territories with lower rates, and in terms of programs, IOUs appear to have spent more on conservation programs, he said.

The region's summer and winter peaks continued moving closer together in 2020. The Northwest's summer peak of 29,434 MW almost equaled its winter peak of 30,050 MW. Average load declined slightly from 20,989 MW in 2019 to 20,613 MW last year, according to NWPCC, which has been aggregating hourly data from the region's balancing authorities since the early 1990s.

The Northwest's 145,431 demand response customers trimmed regional peak load by 389 MW. That is far short of the region's potential DR savings of 1,656 MW, based on data reported to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Behind-the-meter solar installations in 2020 climbed to 538 MW across the Northwest, an average annual pace of 31 percent since 2014 when it totaled 106 MW, according to the presentation.

Residential installations in 2020 accounted for 406 MW, commercial installations were 132 MW and industrial capacity was 21 MW.

Reckoned from 2014, these represent increases of 525 percent from 65 MW for residential installations, 238 percent from 39 MW for commercial installations and a whopping 950 percent from 2 MW for industrial installations.

Relative to 2019, residential installations in 2020 increased 22 percent from 333 MW, commercial increased 27 percent from 104 MW and industrial increased 40 ­percent from 15 MW.

Natural gas consumption fell by 6 percent across all sectors in 2020, falling from 853 MMcf in 2019 to 805 MMcf. Electric power natural gas demand dropped from 287 MMcf two years ago to 262 MMcf last year, a 9 percent decline. Commercial use fell by the same percent, from 142 MMcf to 129 MMcf, according to the presentation.

Economic recovery began in 2021. Washington has led the region, with 8.5 percent growth during the first half of the year. By the end of September, the number of jobs in the region was equivalent to 2019, based on preliminary data in Jourabchi's presentation.

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Contributing Editor

Dan has covered stories from Seattle to Tbilisi; spent time with the AP, Everett Daily Herald and Christian Science Monitor; and was twice a member of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife have three young children and live in Seattle.