Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Carbon Footprint: Live in the Northwest

It's popular around these parts to try and reduce your carbon footprint. I've already commented on carbon trading and using public transit as ways to do this. One approach probably slipped your mind: Move to Seattle! According to the born and bred Seattleites, I am not qualified to offer such an invitation. I transplanted 6 years ago. If you want to live somewhere that does not depend on burning stuff to keep your food frozen, Seattle is a good option for you. The Emerald City gets only 6% of all power by direct combustion.

Do you know where your power comes from?

Scott Thomsen of Seattle City Light helped me track down the statistics of how Seattle's power is generated. Seattle's fuel mix as of 2005 is as follows:
Hydro 86.45%
Natural Gas 5.28%
Nuclear 4.23%
Wind 3.06%
Coal 0.89%
Biomass 0.07%
Petroleum 0.02%

Since 2005, total consumption has been augmented with a 1% input from solar power. You can even check to see which rivers power your water heaters and cell phone chargers. So the Emerald City is really green!

Wait a minute, that depends on who's definition of green you use. Washington voters may remember the November 2006 initiative to increase the required green power sources to 15%. My assessment of the numbers above puts Seattle (and the rest of the state) already ahead of that. It turns out that Washington's standard for green is stricter than almost any other state. If that sounds fishy to you, you're right on! According to state statute, green hydropower only counts if it allows for salmon to navigate past the dam.

From HB2349 (2006):
Qualified hydropower is defined as the additional energy produced by either (a) modernizations or upgrades that have been made after June 1, 1998, on existing hydropower facilities that do not obstruct the passage of anadromous fish; or (b) new hydropower facilities that operate with a head of twenty meters or less that do not obstruct the passage of anadromous fish.
If you'd like to pay someone to help reduce your carbon footprint, I bet the Green Up program (or your local utility's equivalent) is a better investment than one of those carbon trading schemes. Utilities are actively pursuing new strategies for reducing carbon output. Here is part of Seattle's plan. Reducing your personal carbon output depends on behavior change, but there also is significant room for improving the power source. Tell your utility that you want your power to be cleaner.

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