Edmonds-based utility Seattle Steam looks to reduce carbon footprint

  • Mon Jan 11th, 2010 11:12pm
  • News

By Mina Williams For The Herald

Edmonds resident Stan Gent leads the privately owned utility Seattle Steam on a forward-thinking mission to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Formed in 1893, the company has provided thermal energy through 18 miles of underground pipes to 200 locations: office buildings, hospitals, hotels and college campuses in downtown Seattle and on First Hill.

Now Seattle Steam, under Gent as chief executive officer, is moving down the “green” highway.

“In the energy business, you have to be ahead of trends and take action,” Gent said. “Greenhouse gas will be a deal changer. Those who don’t perceive it are at risk of making a mistake.”

By July, new hybrid boilers on Western Avenue, below Pike Place Market, will take the company on an innovation journey procuring wood waste — rather than natural gas from Canada — and burning it to create both thermal energy and materials for concrete. Wood waste from pallets, sawmills and construction sites will chunked into baseball-size pieces and burned at a rate of 250 tons per day.

This will move the 100-year-old company toward lowering its carbon footprint by 45,000 metric tons annually, a 50 percent reduction. This is in keeping with standards set by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

“It is important that we all need to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases,” Gent said. He has been with the company since 2004. “I believe we can’t all wait for the government to tell us what to do.” He envisions Seattle Steam as an early developer in reducing carbon emissions.

“Steam may be old school, but it is part of the environmentally friendly future,” Gent said. “It’s convenient-to-use clean, urban wood. We desire to be a part of the solution. We do what we need to do and what is right in the hope of making money while reducing the carbon emissions in Seattle.”

It’s all about climate change, said Gent of the effort to shift from fossil-based to renewable sources.

The new boilers are poised to run seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and are to produce 85,000 pounds of steam per hour. This innovation, effectively replacing fossil fuel with biomass, has been successfully introduced in other North American and European cities.

Seattle Steam continues to challenge energy paradigms. It is currently working toward generating electricity with a turbine at its Post Avenue plant in Seattle. A $75 million plant will be partially funded by a federal stimulus grant of $18.75 million from the Department of Energy.

Home energy saving tips

Stan Gent suggests simple steps anyone can take to conserve energy at home:

· Change light bulbs from traditional incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs to instantly reduce energy usage. “You will see the savings on your bill,” he says.

· Check your furnace. Think about how old your furnace is and if it’s time for an energy efficient replacement. Gent says there will be grants and tax credits aimed at helping homeowners.

· Upgrade insulation in your home.

· Replace inefficient appliances, such as refrigerators, washers and dryers.

· Unplug electronics while they are not in use.

· Evaluate outdoor lighting. Change light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. Lights that burn the longest would be good candidates for LED bulbs, which take a 60-watt usage down to a single watt and do exactly the same job. “While the bulb is more expensive to buy, it will save watts, which equal money.”