Seattle plans to double energy savings
5-year, $185 million plan equals 180,000 homes' yearly usage
The costumed chump with the giant curlicue light bulb shoved over his head and the seemingly gratuitous decision to announce energy conservation plans at Qwest Field perhaps should be forgiven.
Gimmicks like these could be the city's best bet when trying to get the public motivated to slash its energy use -- even when the goals are large and the potential savings enormous.
Overlooking the Seahawks' field, Seattle City Light officials and Mayor Greg Nickels announced a $185 million plan Wednesday to double the city's energy conservation over five years -- an amount equal to the annual energy use of 180,000 Seattle homes.
The program, which targets residential and commercial electricity use, could save customers $310 million over that time.
"We are putting our conservation program on steroids," Nickels said.
The city plans to reach the new goals through numerous routes, including encouraging the use of compact fluorescent bulbs and other power-saving electronics through coupons and discounts, supporting more efficient home and water heating, and providing incentives for upgrading and constructing energy-thrifty buildings.
The utility is launching pilot programs to help customers with energy audits figure out where their use is greatest in order to reduce it; Qwest Field recently underwent an audit, which concluded that significant amounts of power could be saved by switching to more-efficient lighting.
By saving electricity, the utility can meet the energy needs of the region's increasing numbers of residents and businesses without building power plants or buying more energy from other generators. That saves money and reduces the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases.
It also ensures that the city will meet the conditions of voter-approved Initiative 937, which requires the state's largest electric utilities to capture all of the "cost-effective conservation" available in their service area and to set efficiency goals that will be independently audited.
Puget Sound Energy, which serves 11 counties mostly in Western Washington, has similarly boosted its conservation programs, spending $150 million on increasing energy efficiency from 2008 to 2010.
Still, the idea of conservation -- turning down the thermostat and donning an extra sweater -- doesn't have the sex appeal of building space-age wind turbines or silvery solar panels. That means education and incentives to install energy-saving technologies are key.
"Energy efficiency is invisible," said Sara Patton, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based nonprofit.
"Even though it's incredibly important for our atmosphere and our future, electrical energy is not a big part here of each person's monthly budget," she said. "It takes some effort to get people to pay some attention to it."
Patton applauded the city's goals but was unable to comment on the specific strategies for reaching them, as a detailed plan was not yet publicly available. "I have been disappointed in not being able to see much of the meat of this plan," she said.
She and city officials expressed confidence Wednesday that Seattle residents and businesses could squeeze more savings. Residents here use about 22 percent less power per person compared with national numbers, while Seattle businesses use about 20 percent more than the national average.
Over the past three decades, Seattle residents have steadily cut their energy use by about 30 percent, and utility officials think that trend can continue.
Explained Robert Balzar, director of Seattle City Light's Conservation Resources Division: "The environmental ethic in the Northwest is a major driver."