Seattle Steam, an iconic company with a 115-year legacy of employing traditional technology to heat downtown buildings, is embracing an ancient fuel source—wood—as part of its commitment to carbon emissions reduction.
In a groundbreaking move slated for Fall 2009, Seattle Steam is set to unveil a new boiler, marking a significant transition by utilizing biomass for over 50% of its fuel source. The biomass will primarily comprise wood waste from various local channels, including composting, construction waste, and wood gleaned from city waste streams. This strategic shift is expected to curtail Seattle Steam’s carbon emissions by an impressive 55,000 tons annually.
As a privately-owned entity, Seattle Steam plays a pivotal role in providing heat to approximately 200 customers in Seattle’s downtown and First Hill neighborhoods through an extensive network of 18 miles of underground pipes. Beyond heating, the company caters to the specialized needs of hospitals, food producers, and the city’s art museum by delivering high-temperature steam and humidity control services. While the existing customer base already qualifies for points under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system due to their connection to a district energy system, the shift to biomass opens the door to potential additional LEED credits, as noted by Seattle Steam CEO Stan Gent.
Despite the anticipated higher operational and maintenance costs associated with the new biomass boiler compared to the existing natural gas system, Gent emphasizes that the company does not foresee an immediate return on the $25 million investment. Importantly, these added costs will not be passed on to customers in the form of increased rates.
Seattle Steam views the move to biomass as an initial stride in its commitment to renewable energy sources. With an application for stimulus funds pending approval, the company aims to embark on a more ambitious journey by establishing a combined heat and power plant. Such a facility would elevate Seattle Steam’s renewable energy quotient to an impressive 80%, according to Gent.
This pioneering initiative by Seattle Steam not only underscores its dedication to sustainability but also positions it as a trailblazer in the broader shift towards renewable energy solutions. For a glimpse into the evolving landscape of sustainable practices and renewable energy, visit CommonShare.