As Congress and the Bush administration continue to debate a federal policy on climate change, local governments are taking the initiative and setting up their own programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During today's OnPoint, Jorge Carrasco, superintendent of Seattle City Light, discusses his city's efforts to reverse the effects of climate change. Carrasco discusses a proposal to be voted on this year that will create a renewable portfolio standard for Washington. He also talks about the efforts Seattle companies are making to offset their carbon emissions.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Jorge Carrasco, superintendent of Seattle City Light, the electric utility in Seattle, Washington. Jorge, thanks for joining me.
Jorge Carrasco: Thank you for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Jorge, NERC just released its reliability assessment and they found that electric utilities might have trouble accommodating high energy demands if new power lines aren't put in. Assess for us Seattle's current status. How reliable is the long-term availability of power in your city?
Jorge Carrasco: Well, Seattle has limited transmission facilities of its own. Most of our transmission is provided in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administration. I would say that the transmission system in the Northwest is a system that is in transition. There have been quite a few improvements made, over time, compared to other parts of the country, but there are areas of congestion, particularly in the I-5 corridor. And these are areas that have been highlighted in a recent Department of Energy assessment of transmission grids around the country. So actually we're pleased, in the Northwest, that they're identifying this as an area that needs attention. And we think that it will be in the region's interest to both improve the management of the transmission system and hopefully meet the needs of future population growth.
Monica Trauzzi: Seattle City Light recently announced it achieved zero net emissions for the second year in a row. Talk about why this program has been so successful and how, in such a short amount of time, Seattle has been able to achieve this.
Jorge Carrasco: Well, we have the good fortune of being in a region of the country where water resources are critical. Seattle City Light is 90 percent hydro dependent. On the plus side, it's a renewable resource and something that is very good for the city and for the region, but it does mean that particularly in recent years we have been experiencing impacts from melting snow pack, particularly in the North Cascades. So the community at large is interested in making sure that we are taking steps at the local level to address climate change and the potential impact of that on the snow pack that we depend on. And so our mayor and our council have been interested in putting in place programs to try to address that issue. And this zero net greenhouse gas emission program was an effort on our part to do that. We've done that over the course of several years. We're just now reaching a point, as the 2005, where we met the neutrality goal. And we've been doing that by a combination of both measuring our carbon footprint, so we know how much in carbon emissions the utility contributes, and then taking steps through local projects to generate carbon offsets, which offset whatever emissions we might contribute as a utility. And in addition to that we've had some programs with a company by the name of DuPont that allowed us to purchase some offsets from them.
Monica Trauzzi: Seattle has also paid companies to produce less pollution and this was somewhat controversial in your city. Is it an effective way to reduce global warming? What happens if you decide to stop paying? Will the companies continue to cap their emissions on their own?
Jorge Carrasco: Well, companies in Seattle have been very responsive to the need to address the issue of carbon emissions. And the companies that we've worked with have actually been pleased to work with City Light on ways to offset the carbon emissions that we contribute. They have taken advantage of whatever finding we provide to leverage things that they do in order to reduce their carbon contribution. And in every case that I can think of, every organization that we've worked with has continued to be supportive of the program and interested in continuing to work with us, so it has not an issue for us.
Monica Trauzzi: Election Day is just a few weeks away and Washington voters are going to have to make some important decisions regarding renewable energy in their state. Initiative 937, it encourages the development of renewable energy and basically focuses on wind. It does talk about a couple of other renewables, but it doesn't include hydropower, and that's something that Seattle City Light is heavily dependent on. What's your reaction to this proposal and why don't you think they've included hydropower?
Jorge Carrasco: Well, renewables are something that City Light has supported for an extended amount of time and I think you'll find that many utilities in the region understand the need for renewables. The initiative does exclude hydro, and I think the reason for that is that the initiative organizers want to promote new renewables and of course hydro, for now, is pretty much maxed out. So I think one of the underlying objectives of the initiative is to encourage other forms of renewable energy that might meet the need for energy over the extended period of time.
Monica Trauzzi: Is this something that Seattle City Like supports?
Jorge Carrasco: Yes. As I said, we have supported renewables for a long time, if anything, many of the objectives that the initiative has in mind, Seattle has been aggressive in promoting. And I think most people that you talk to in Seattle would tell you that the chances of the initiative passing are fairly significant.
Monica Trauzzi: There are people who oppose it of course, and it would create a renewable portfolio standard for Washington. Is that something that you consider important, to have an overall RPS for Washington? Several other states have already done that.
Jorge Carrasco: Well, there's about 22 states and the District of Columbia, I believe, that have done this. Well, 22 states I believe have done that.
Monica Trauzzi: Twenty-two plus the District, yeah.
Jorge Carrasco: Right. So we personally think that having a standard in place is something that will encourage everyone throughout the state to do more to promote renewables. There are different points of view on the issue, but Seattle has historically supported renewables and will continue to do so.
Monica Trauzzi: There's a concern that the implementation of the initiative would cause an increase in rates. In a way, Seattle City Light is already charging customers for the promotion of renewable energy. Talk about the two different programs you have. You have Green Up and Green Power, talk about what those do.
Jorge Carrasco: Well, both of those programs are designed to reach out to our customers and ask them to consider participating in ways that they could financially support additional renewables. So in both cases either a residential customer could decide to participate or a commercial customer could decide to participate as a way to essentially ensure that as much of the energy that they acquire from the utility is green, is renewable. Because we are 90 percent hydro it's not unusual for a commercial organization to perhaps acquire 7 or 8 or 10 percent of their total purchase from renewables and make a contribution to the utility, which in turn is used to fund additional renewables in the future.
Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk about the enthusiasm of customers. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels just unveiled a plan that will further reduce Seattle's impact on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. And voters are going to have to approve two different initiatives this year. Are Seattle residents as invested as Mayor Nickels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reaching these Kyoto-like standards that he's implemented?
Jorge Carrasco: I believe they are. The mayor has been a strong leader in our community on energy issues. The commitment on the part of the city is to meet the Kyoto Protocol, which means reducing our emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The response in our community has been very positive. The mayor, in turn, beyond Seattle, has reached out to other cities around the country and asked them to participate in the same commitment that Seattle has made. And to date we've had 321 cities around the country, representing a population of about 51 million that have signed up for the same climate change partnership that Seattle is in.
Monica Trauzzi: Are the changes that Seattle has made, are they viable for larger cities who have many more homes and buildings to provide electricity for?
Jorge Carrasco: Seattle is in a bit of a unique situation because we are hydro based and we don't generate as many carbon emissions. But by the same token, cities that don't have hydro, that have other carbon based fuels to depend on, have greater opportunities to actually have a greater impact. And while we're not suggesting that anyone should try to necessarily reach neutrality, because that would be very difficult for many communities, the challenge of the Kyoto Protocol is one that we think can be achieved. And the mayor has just recently announced the implementation of a climate action plan that outlines the steps that the city will be taking in the next few years to actually achieve the Kyoto Protocol.
Monica Trauzzi: We'll have to end it on that note.
Jorge Carrasco: Great.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you very much.
Jorge Carrasco: Thank you for inviting me.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
[End of Audio]