the film
Commentaries and editorials

Seattle Can Be a Leader
for Clean, Efficient Energy

by Paul Schell & Heidi Wills, Guest Columnists
The Seattle Times, September 19, 2000

As an electricity provider, the City of Seattle plays a role in the international challenge of global warming. As a customer and part-owner of Seattle City Light, you do too. It's a serious challenge. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, our nation consumes almost a quarter of its energy - most of it from burning fossil fuels, which enhances the "greenhouse effect."

The anticipated local effects of climate change are sobering: damage to forest ecosystems; rising sea levels; deteriorating air quality; and disruption of the hydrologic cycles on which our water and power systems depend. Salmon recovery - the focus of an unprecedented regional mobilization - will be even more difficult in an unstable climate.

Seattle led the nation with residential recycling, and we can do it again for climate protection. With some of the world's most talented innovators and a history of leadership in energy efficiency and renewable resources, we are perfectly positioned to become an international leader for clean energy.

In honor of Earth Day 2000, Seattle made a historic commitment: Seattle City Light will meet all of our electricity demand with no net emissions of "greenhouse" pollution.

It's a tall order, but we can do it. Seattle City Light's main resource is our own hydropower, which provides us with the most affordable power in urban America, while protecting fish and emitting no pollution. Our low rates and relatively clean air are no accident - they are the return on years of investments in energy efficiency and renewable resources.

But we've still got a long way to go. In our transition toward greener energy, we sold our share in a coal-fired power plant in Centralia and we're replacing that power through long-term hydropower contracts with the federal Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Nevertheless, we have to plan to meet greater demands for power from commercial growth and expanding computer networks. To do it, we'll need new resources.

Our first priority is energy efficiency. We've led the nation in conservation for over a decade, but we can do more. Conservation is the cleanest and most cost-effective option. It also improves the performance of our businesses, the efficiency of our industries and the comfort of our homes. We're committed to doubling our already aggressive conservation efforts. But this alone won't be enough to keep the lights on.

Our next priority is to develop renewable resources such as wind, geothermal and solar power. Methane gas from landfills can produce power without increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and there may be some potential for small hydropower projects that do not harm fish or wildlife. City Light recently solicited proposals for up to 100 megawatts - nearly a tenth of our total power needs - from renewable resources. Given the higher price of these premium resources, however, we may not be able to afford meeting all of our power needs this way.

We'll pursue energy conservation and new renewable sources of energy aggressively. But if we still need more power, we have three practical choices: buy power on the market; contract for the output of a gas-fired plant; or build our own gas-fired power plant. All three involve burning fossil fuels.

Right now, when our demand exceeds our supply, we buy wholesale electricity on the Western power market. That market is increasingly subject to volatile price swings. And market power is much dirtier than Seattle's power. If we want steadier prices and more control over emissions, we can either build a gas-fired plant or contract for the output of one.

If we turn to any fossil-fuel options, we are committed to offset or mitigate all their greenhouse gas emissions. "Offsets" are actions that either reduce emissions of greenhouse gases or remove those gases from the atmosphere, such as forestry projects that collect and store carbon in trees, or investing in alternative-fueled vehicles to replace fossil-fueled vehicles.

We hope that our commitment to climate protection will encourage other electricity providers to reduce their own emissions. And we intend to put any future power suppliers on notice: energy resources that produce no greenhouse gas emissions are our first priority. This city needs new power resources and those that protect the climate and the environment go to the head of the line.

As an electricity consumer, you can help. The more efficiently you use power, the less we'll have to buy from more expensive, dirtier sources. Please turn off the lights when you leave a room. And switch to high-efficiency compact fluorescent light bulbs.

When you contact us, City Light will assist you in reducing electricity consumption without sacrificing the quality of energy service you enjoy. Together, we'll show how a big city can meet all its power needs without contributing to global warming.

Related Website:

Paul Schell is mayor of Seattle.
Heidi Wills member of Seattle City Council & chair of the Council's Energy & Environmental Policy Committee.
Seattle Can Be a Leader for Clean, Efficient Energy
The Seattle Times, September 19, 2000

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