Island Power – How to Cut Carbon Emissions Without a Lifestyle Overhaul

blue_sky_logoIf you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple years or have just been trying to reduce your carbon footprint, you know how hard it is to make meaningful lifestyle changes and still be part of modern society.

Or, maybe you’ve made great strides and have transitioned your family from a meat-heavy diet to one that is more plant-based; decided to stop visiting family living a plane-ride away. And, maybe, you have even given up your car for a bicycle and wear secondhand clothing that does double duty on your bike and in the office (easier on the West Coast than the East Coast). If so, then kudos to you and your family; most of us manage to recycle most of the time, and feel guilty the rest of the time.

Smart Energy
It wasn’t until I started thinking about buying an electric car that an easier path to a low-carbon lifestyle came into focus. After doing a little research I realized that driving an electric car isn’t that much better than some of its gas-powered counterparts unless its powered with renewable energy. The cost of setting up a solar array for my new electric car seemed excessive. What to do? What to do? Why not change the source of our electricity? How hard could that be?

Not that hard. In 2008 our neighbors in Jefferson County (Port Townsend) voted to give electric authority to their public utility district, Jefferson PUD.  Today, they have their own locally controlled, nonprofit power system, which is virtually carbon-free. They get their power from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). 89% of BPA’s power is hydroelectric which is nearly free of carbon emissions [download a PDF on their resource mix and carbon emissions ].

We could get our electric power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and in one fell swoop reduce the island’s carbon emissions. BPA has set aside a small amount of low cost tier one power for new nonprofit utilities. Of the 150+ megawatts of power currently available Bainbridge would need about 50 megawatts.

Local Economy
While Bainbridge Islanders’ first concern may not be job creation, it is interesting to note that Jefferson County was able to create 35 living-wage jobs when they created an electric utility. And, more importantly, now about 50% of the 33million dollars in ratepayer revenue stays in the county as compared to 2% previously. Could Bainbridge Island benefit from another revenue stream? Probably. Let’s keep more money on the island instead of sending it off island to a foreign-owned utility.

Island Voice
Currently, 49% of Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) electric power comes from carbon-emitting coal and natural gas. The coal-generated electricity comes from Montana’s Colstrip coalmine, which is an environmental hazard – it is one of the top ten emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States plus its ash ponds have polluted aquifers. “PSE is the largest owner of Colstrip, which consists of four separate coal-fired units.” As an investor-owned utility, Puget Sound Energy has a fiduciary responsibility to increase their net worth, and coal is a good financial investment.

Local nonprofits, such as Climate Action Bainbridge and the Washington chapter of Sierra Club have lobbied PSE to retire the Colstrip mine without being truly heard or impacting PSE’s operations.

“In early October, PSE customers, Coal-Free PSE actives, and a coalition of partners delivered 10,000 petitions to PSE in Olympia. Accompanying the petitions was a report card, in which PSE was given an ‘incomplete’ for not coming up with a plan to retire their coal plant.” – Sierra Club’s Cascade CREST newsletter winter 2014.

As a nonprofit island-owned utility, we would finally be able to voice our preferences, be heard and adapt quickly to new technologies. Imagine being able to add power to our grid from distributed sources that can recycle waste heat and energy. There are many exciting options available today which will reduce our negative impact on the planet without completely altering our lifestyles. Who’s in?

To find out more about Island Power go to our website: island-power.org and follow our FaceBook page BainbridgeIslandPower.

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