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Where We Live: How We Get Our Electric Power

We have good reasons for satisfaction with Seattle City Light.

All the electricity we have has to come from somewhere, but where? And how does it get here?

Most of us are aware we get our power from hydroelectricity-- water falling through turbines to make current. Almost true. In 2010 Seattle City Light got 92.39% of its power from hydroelectric dams, 4.07% from wind, 2.52% from nuclear, and tiny fractions from coal (because some Bonneville Power Administration energy comes from it), landfill gasses, natural gas, biomass, petroleum and waste. 

The big Seattle City Light high tension power lines come in from the Skagit River dams right at Shoreline’s northeast corner, at 30th Avenue Northeast, and spread out in branches from there. A good bit of it goes to the substation on Meridian Avenue Northeast between North 163rd and 165th Streets and thence into the rest of the city.

We have good reasons for satisfaction with City Light. The utility’s “Power Lines” newsletter put it this way: “Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 1 million Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.”

They own hydro facilities on the Tolt River--16.8 mw--and the Skagit River--Gorge dam 199.2 mw, Diablo dam 159.3 mw, Ross dam 352.6 mw--and on the Pend Oreille River--Boundary dam 1.05 mw (50% to SCL). Yes, dams have terrible effects on salmon runs, but that is, as they say, “a sunk cost,” so no further damage can be done. While dam removal is a great good for obsolete, silted in, or damaged dams a functional dam should be retained for the good of the rest of the environment.

We’re in a pretty good position here for energy independence, as we make a huge amount of non-fossil-fuel-powered electricity. You can see a great deal of detail on the USEPA’s “Washington state energy profile” map of generation and transmission. Washington is a huge player in the national grid, producing 29% of the nation’s net electrical power. The biggest hydroelectric station in the country is Grand Coulee Dam, at 6,809 megawatts, and we’re also the sixth biggest wind generating state as well.

Puget Power (Puget Sound Energy), on the other hand, gets over a third of its power from the huge Colstrip coal plant in Montana--the eighth biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the nation--and a lot of natural gas plants, along with some hydro. They are the second biggest utility owner of wind power in the U.S., but they have a long way to go before they catch up to SCL.

This is all part of how we beat climate change. Make our energy here. Make it without fossil fuels. All the money that goes into it stays here, except for parts made elsewhere. Add in residential generation by solar or small wind power and we win. That’s the way.

©Larry Lewis

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