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Monday, May 10, 2021

Port of Bellingham to use 100% renewable energy

Plans to cut emissions by 86% have been in place since March

A view of the Skookumchuck Wind project in Lewis County, Wash. Skookumchuck can produce 137 megawatts of wind energy and is the first large-scale wind project to be built in western Wash. // Photo courtesy of Southern Power.
A view of the Skookumchuck Wind project in Lewis County, Wash. Skookumchuck can produce 137 megawatts of wind energy and is the first large-scale wind project to be built in western Wash. // Photo courtesy of Southern Power

By Luisa Loi

The Port of Bellingham is reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 86% after signing an 18-year-contract with Puget Sound Energy, according to a press release from the port.

In March, the port began receiving 100% renewable energy after undergoing the contract, according to the port’s press release. Under the Green Direct program, PSE sells renewable energy purchased from green energy developers to corporations and municipal governments, which the port signed in 2018.

The port’s emissions are projected to decrease significantly compared to the 5,687 metric tons of greenhouse gases released in 2019 alone, according to data provided by Hegedus. This amount is equivalent to 1,237 passenger vehicles driven in a year, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. The 86% reduction would bring the emissions to 798 metric tons of CO2. 

Adrienne Hegedus, the port’s sustainability program manager, said the port expects to consume 7,770 Megawatt-hours in a year. A Megawatt-hour is the amount of electricity generated by a one-megawatt electric generator in an hour. According to CleanEnergyAuthority.com, a MWh is equal to the amount of electricity used by about 330 homes in an hour. 

The green energy will fuel 100% of the port-owned buildings — such as offices, the cruise terminal, the shipping terminal, and operations throughout port properties. Most commercial tenants on the port’s property manage their own bills and are not included in the port’s emission data, said Michael Shepard, the Port of Bellingham Commissioner.

The energy comes from the Skookumchuck Wind Facility, a 137 MW wind farm that sells their energy to PSE and is located between Lewis county and Thurston county. The wind facility is partly funded by Green Direct’s customers. Western Washington University is part of the program as well and has been receiving energy from Skookumchuck since December 2020.

The wind farm is capable of producing power for the equivalent of 30,000 homes per year — equivalent to 83% of the households in Bellingham, said Heather Mulligan, the manager of Customer Renewable Energy Programs at PSE. 

With 38 wind turbines, Skookumchuck is the first large-scale wind project to be built in Western Washington, Mulligan said. 

A second facility, the 150 MW Lund Hill Solar, will also provide wind and solar energy and is currently under construction. Once completed, the port will receive energy from Lund Hill as well, Hegedus said.

According to the port’s press release, Green Direct serves 41 customers, including Western, the City of Bellingham, the Port of Seattle, Target, REI and Starbucks. 

When Lund Hill Solar is finished, “In total, [PSE] will have, I should say, 287 MW of new renewable energy capacity installed in Washington state to meet the demands of these 41 green direct customers,” Mulligan said. 

“The point of [Green Direct] is to capture the expressed interest of businesses and organizations like Western to buy renewable energy. And to enable them to communicate that interest and act on it to make a large purchase of renewable energy,” said Joel Swisher, director of Western’s Institute of Energy Studies.

The port also manages a variety of operations according to its sustainability program. 

Shepard said that the port has been supporting Silfab Solar, North America’s largest solar manufacturer, by securing them grants and purchasing their panels.

“We’re not only stimulating our local economy, but doing good for our environment,” Shepard said.

The port’s goal is to one day be able to generate its own power. Shepard said the port is “close to putting somewhere around 150 to 200 panels on the roof of the cruise terminal” to supply about 25% of the energy needs for that building.

The port is also working on cleanup operations of historically damaged sites, particularly in Bellingham Bay and Blaine Harbor, Shepard said.

Shepard said the port is the lead agency in Whatcom county for facilitating cleanups of industrial sites, some of which are listed as Model Toxics Control Act Cleanup sites. Current cleanup locations include the Whatcom Waterway and the Georgia-Pacific mill site in Downtown Bellingham, which present potentially harmful contaminated sediment.

Swisher said although renewable power is the cheapest source of energy supply, it is not entirely sustainable. 

“It’s not a free lunch,” Swisher said. “It’s a lot less than burning fossil fuel every day. But it’s not zero.” 

Despite the absence of emissions, green energy facilities still impact the land, and there is no current way to recycle materials used to build solar panels, batteries and turbines, Swisher said. He believes that it will be important to develop sustainable ways of disposing and reutilizing the large amounts of materials to replace fossil fuel sources. 

Luisa Loi is an environmental reporter for The Front majoring in News/Editorial. Her work focuses on findings, developments and issues concerning the environment. You can contact her at luisaloi.thefront@gmail.com.

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