Seattle Steam makes the switch to biomass
Seattle Steam, a company that’s been using old school technology to heat downtown buildings for more than 115 years, is turning to an even older fuel source—wood—in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
In Fall 2009, the company plans to fire up a new boiler which will allow it to derive more than half of its source fuel from biomass—specifically, wood waste from a number of local sources including composting, construction waste and wood culled from city waste streams. The switch will reduce Seattle Steam’s carbon emissions by about 55,000 tons annually, the company says.
Privately owned Seattle Steam provides heat to about 200 customers in Seattle’s downtown and First Hill neighborhoods via 18 miles of underground pipe. For hospitals, food producers and the city’s art museum, it also offers high-temperature steam and humidity control. While the company’s customers are already eligible for points from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for connection to a district energy system, the switch to biomass could mean additional LEED credits, Seattle Steam CEO Stan Gent says.
Because the new biomass boiler will be more expensive to operate and maintain than the existing natural gas system, Gent says the company is not expecting a quick return on investment in the $25 million project. However, added costs will not translate to higher rates for customers, he says.
For Seattle Steam, the move to biomass represents a first step in switching to renewable energy sources. The company has applied for stimulus funds for a combined heat and power plant, which would boost its renewable energy percentage to more than 80 percent, Gent says.