Saluting Tom Eckman: an IRP legend announces retirement

Blog Post | April 07, 2016 - 11:56 am
By Martin Kushler, Senior Fellow

Ask just about anyone involved in the utility energy efficiency industry where the best utility system integrated resource planning (IRP) is conducted, and they’ll say it’s the Pacific Northwest. And ask anyone familiar with that work what name comes to mind in connection with that effort, and it’s Tom Eckman.

Tom is the Director of the Power Division of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and has been a key figure in the history of electric resource planning in the Northwest, literally from its inception. He testified before Congress and helped produce the Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980. Among other things, that “Power Act” had the prescient and critically important effect of enshrining in federal law the concept that energy efficiency is an electric system resource. That act has been the foundation of electric system planning in the Northwest ever since, and Tom has been centrally involved every step of the way.

Going out on a high note

Tom recently directed completion of the Seventh Northwest Power Plan, and having crossed that finish line, announced his impending retirement on July 1st.  This blog post is a tribute to Tom, and an acknowledgment of his invaluable contributions to the field.

If there is one image that best represents Tom’s work, it is perhaps the now iconic graph of projected resource additions needed over the planning period covered in the power plan. Each of the last four plans (conducted every 5 years) has found that the energy efficiency resource would meet nearly all projected load growth for the following 20 years. The figure below shows resource additions called for in the latest plan.

Seventh Power Plan Resource Portfolio (resources to be added over the planning period)

That pattern has been so similar across multiple plans that I’ve teased Tom that he just prints the same graph from a mimeograph machine every five years.

In all seriousness, the depth of analysis the planners in the Northwest engage in is exceptional.  They thoroughly examine over two dozen different scenarios to analyze the effects of different market conditions and policy configurations on future resource choices. For a quick overview of the most recent plan, one might want to peruse this presentation.

Putting a plan into action

And what is perhaps most noteworthy is the success that the Northwest has had turning the “on paper” planning analyses into concrete action and measurable results. The cumulative effects of this work has been truly impressive. By 2012 energy efficiency had become the second largest electric resource in the Northwest, trailing only hydropower, and exceeding all other resources such as coal, natural gas, and wind. And energy efficiency’s share continues to grow. The Pacific Northwest provides an outstanding example of resource planning and implementation that all states and regions should study carefully.

I want to thank Tom for being such an effective spokesperson for IRP and for energy efficiency as a legitimate resource. I personally have called on him more often than anyone has a right to for our Energy Efficiency as a Resource conferences, most recently for a 2015 keynote speech. Tom has a wonderful ability to combine critically important technical content with humorous and entertaining delivery and has played a huge role in advancing this field over the decades.

So here’s to the Johnny Appleseed of IRP: Happy trails, and may you find the least-cost, low-risk, maximum benefit path to optimize your retirement.

THANKS TOM!!!! (And don't think we won't call on you for future contributions.)

Data Points is a blog series focusing on the graphs and other images that tell the energy efficiency story.