Seattle Utility Chases Climate Neutrality

Seattle Utility Chases Climate Neutrality

Through an organized emission-reduction program, Seattle City Light is on pace this year to become the first utility in the nation to ahieve carbon-neutrality. The electric utility plans to get there with two new programs: one gives customers more choices about where their energy comes from; the other curbs emissions from cruise ships docked in Elliott Bay. By Michael Burnham

Through an organized emission-reduction program, Seattle City Light is on pace this year to become the first utility in the nation to achieve carbon neutrality, officials at the municipal utility say.

City Light plans to get there with two new programs: One gives customers more choices about where their energy comes from; the other curbs emissions from cruise ships docked in Elliott Bay.

Starting this summer is the Green-Up program, which allows City Light's commercial customers to buy a percentage of their energy as renewable power. The program will offer wind energy certificates supplied from the Stateline Wind Project at the Washington-Oregon border at a premium of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

City Light has a 20-year agreement with the wind farm's developer, Portland-based PPM Energy, to purchase 175 megawatts (MW) of wind energy from the project. In the future, the Green-Up program may also be supplied from biomass and landfill gas projects, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Commercial customers could get 5% to 100% of their energy through Green-Up, said Sharon Bennett, a City Light spokeswoman. Already, Seattle-based real estate firm Unico Properties Inc., has agreed to purchase 8% of its annual energy, representing 3,125 MW, said Erica Perez, a company spokeswoman.

And starting in September, residential customers will be able to buy 50% or 100% of their energy through the Green-Up program.

"The idea is to give residential and commercial customers a way to be a good environmental citizen," said City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco.

In addition to the Green-Up program, City Light plans to purchase greenhouse gas offsets from Princess Cruise Lines, which docks two of its behemoth ships, the Diamond Princess and the Sapphire Princess, at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 30. Offsets will be created when the ships plug into the city’s electricity grid for power rather than burn marine diesel fuel. The partnership is expected to cut by 30% the total air emissions from Seattle-based cruise ships while they are docked, according to City Light.

"Each cruise ship emits something like 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide during the season when they are docking here," Carrasco said the ships, which require about 100,000 kilowatts a day each. "By hooking them up to shore power, they can turn off their diesel generators and get power directly from City Light."

About 40 days a year, 10 hours a day, each 116,000-ton cruise ship runs its diesel engines while docked in Elliott Bay to provide sufficient power for more than 2,600 passengers. Through a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other parties, City Light is extending cable that will allow the big ships to hook up to the city’s grid instead.

During the 2005 cruise ship season (May to September), Santa Clarita, Calif.-based Princess Cruise Lines, is paying the utility a flat rate of 6 cents per kilowatt hour to hook up to the grid, Bennett said. City Light is paying the company $10,000 in exchange for the right to the greenhouse gas offsets.

“Not only will greenhouse gas emission be reduced when the cruise ships use electricity rather than diesel, but the emission of other air pollutants will also be significantly reduced,” Bennett added.

Princess Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp. (NYSE: CCL), has invested about $1.5 million to equip the two vessels to run on shore power, said Tom Dow, Carnival’s vice president for public affairs. Ongoing costs of hooking the ships to on-shore grids are about break-even, he added.

Each ship has a custom electrical connection cabinet that automatically connects its electrical network to the on-shore utilities. Electricity is transmitted from the transformer ashore to the vessel via four 3-inch diameter flexible cables that hang festooning-style on a special gantry system on the docks. The gantry and the festooning equipment are designed to accommodate the rise and fall of the tide.

Juneau, Alaska, is the only other port in the world that supplies shore power to cruise ships. Alaska Electric Light & Power has been providing shore power to the Seattle-based ships since summer 2001. A similar arrangement makes sense in Seattle, Dow noted, where the two ships spend about 400 hours a year on call.

“The onus for Princess is to find an acceptable resolution to concerns about emissions in port,” Dow said. “Princess plans to have a long-term relationship with the Seattle port.”

Dow noted that the ship-to-grid arrangement with City Light would need to be renewed on an annual basis.

The voluntary move by Princess to plug into Seattle’s on-shore grid follows an agreement in 2004 by cruise lines operating in Seattle to reduce wastewater emissions and implement a new inspection and verification program covering the handling of wastewater and recyclable materials. The agreement between cruise ship operators, state regulators and Port of Seattle officials gives the region the cruise industry’s strongest wastewater discharge rules, port officials said.

This article has been reprinted courtesy of, a project of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.