City switches operations to 100 percent wind power on Dec. 1

Mercer Island signs 20-year contract with PSE.

  • Thursday, December 3, 2020 8:30am
  • News
The Skookumchuck Wind Facility is located on private timber land near Centralia. Photo courtesy of Southern Power

The Skookumchuck Wind Facility is located on private timber land near Centralia. Photo courtesy of Southern Power

Staff Report

As of Dec. 1, the city’s entire government operations are now powered by clean, renewable energy.

The city signed a 20-year contract to purchase carbon-free wind power from Puget Sound Energy (PSE) that will replace the city’s current mix of electricity, more than half of which is still generated by carbon-emitting fuels like coal and natural gas, according to a city press release.

“When we made the decision to power 100 percent of our facilities with clean wind energy instead of fossil fuel electricity, we hoped it would encourage other cities to do the same,” said Mercer Island Mayor Benson Wong in the release. “Now that PSE’s Green Direct program is in full operation, we’re proud of the major role it plays in our city’s ongoing commitment to reducing our greenhouse gas impacts and promoting sustainability.”

According to the PSE website, the new Green Direct program furthers its “deep decarbonization goals and accelerates the move towards clean electricity by 2045, as called for in Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act.”

The program will provide 100 percent carbon-free energy directly to the city’s account (a total of 2.7 million kilowatt hours/year), significantly lowering the city’s entire carbon footprint. Approximately 40 percent of city government greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are due to electricity usage; however, the city’s power usage represents less than 2 percent of the entire Mercer Island community’s consumption. According to Ross Freeman, the city’s sustainability manager, there was no cost to enroll in the Green Direct program, just a minimum time commitment, and the city chose the maximum of 20 years.

In 2016, the city signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with PSE to help fund the Skookumchuck Wind Facility, a dedicated, clean energy source that began operations last month after about one year of construction. It is the first project developed for the Green Direct program, PSE notes on its site. Located on private timber land near Centralia, the facility — owned by Southern Power — is the largest in western Washington and hosts 38 massive turbines with 137 megawatts of total capacity.

“Thanks to low starting rates, the city’s total electricity bill will also drop as it switches over to this green power supply,” said Freeman in the city press release. “Rates are locked to a fixed schedule that increases only 2 percent per year, which is less than past increases in conventional power rates.”

Freeman said that it’s too soon to have the city’s new adjusted meter statements appear. Prior to the pandemic, the city’s average annual bill was $350,000/year for all facilities. The city has about 55 separate electricity meters that cover everything from a cluster of streetlights to pump stations.

In 2012, the city purchased green power offsets equivalent to one third of its total energy consumption from PSE. This offset was eventually increased to cover 100 percent of the city’s consumption in 2015, at a cost of about $12,000/year.

Today, about 1,000 homes and businesses (10 percent of total accounts) on Mercer Island purchase more than 12 million kilowatt hours of green power offsets per year through PSE’s Green Power program, helping offset the carbon emissions from their own electricity usage, and providing funding for the operation of large-scale clean energy projects.

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