First Northwest Economy-Wide Deep Decarbonization Study

The Bullitt Center

Deep Cuts in Northwest Carbon Emissions Achievable and Affordable

Economy-wide study shows that deep emission reductions will provide lasting cost savings

SEATTLE – Dramatic cuts in carbon emissions are possible in the Northwest at modest capital costs and will generate long-term savings for consumers, according to a new report released today.

The first analysis to look economy-wide at Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana – Meeting the Challenge of Our Time: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future for the Northwest – offers a roadmap for decarbonizing the region. The report, a deep decarbonization pathways study, looks at trade-offs and opportunities to cut carbon emissions 86% below 1990 levels by 2050 in buildings, transportation, and electricity generation.

“With federal inaction on climate change, it is up to states and regions to get serious about carbon emission reduction and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy,” said Eileen V. Quigley, executive director of the Clean Energy Transition Institute, which commissioned the report. “Now we have a roadmap to understand how to get us there in the Northwest over the next 30 years.”

Key findings from Meeting the Challenge include the following:

  • A nearly 100% clean electricity grid is needed to most efficiently achieve mid-century climate targets; coal is eliminated from the region’s electricity sector and only a small amount of natural gas remains in 2050 to ensure the grid can reliably deliver power during periods of low renewable generation.
  • Widespread electrification of transportation reduces emissions at the lowest cost. Optimal targets for electrification by 2050 include 100% of passenger (light-duty), 60% of medium-duty and 40% of heavy-duty vehicles by 2050.
  • Sustainable biomass is best reserved for jet and diesel fuel for aviation and freight, which are harder to electrify at this time.
  • Increased grid integration with California will lower cost, potentially reducing the cost of decarbonization by $11.1 billion over the 30-year study period for both the Northwest and California.
  • Emerging technologies economically utilize excess renewables to help displace fossil fuels and balance demand and supply on the electrical grid. Technologies such as electrolysis, synthetic fuels, and carbon capture will play a growing role after 2040.

The study examined eight cases to test the impacts of different assumptions, such as limited transport electrification, increased transmission between the region and California, and constrained biomass supplies.

“For the first time, the Northwest has a technical and economic guide to meet our climate goals most efficiently,” said Chris Stolte, co-founder of the Stolte Family Foundation and Tableau Software. “This new analysis will help policymakers and advocates focus on the best pathways to decarbonize the region.”

The study modeled the annual energy system costs of producing, distributing, and consuming energy and compared today’s energy system costs and a Central Case from 2020 to 2050. The Central Case’s net annual costs vary based on the timing of infrastructure investments, peaking at 16.1% ($9.8 billion) above business as usual in 2038 and decreasing to 8.3% ($6.1 billion) higher than business as usual in 2050, roughly 1% of the region’s total GDP in 2017 (more than $870 billion).

Although the study concludes that consumers will see modest increases in energy costs in the near term compared to business as usual, by 2050 energy efficiency, transportation electrification, and eliminating fossil fuel expenses will bring lower energy costs.

Meeting the Challenge of Our Time: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future for the Northwest was funded by the Stolte Family Foundation and other individual donors listed in the report.

Download the report here.

About the Clean Energy Transition Institute

The Clean Energy Transition Institute is an independent, nonpartisan Northwest research and analysis nonprofit organization with the mission to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy by identifying deep decarbonization strategies; advancing urban clean energy; and building a clean energy workforce. The Institute provides information about the pathways to a clean energy economy and convenes stakeholders to accelerate the shift to a low-carbon economy. More information at


Brad Kahn


Get the latest updates from the Institute directly to your inbox.

Related Posts