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Bainbridge council to consider adopting green energy service for public utilities

The city of Bainbridge Island was awarded a $20,000 grant last week from Puget Sound Energy for its success in promoting "green power" energy.

With that, the city has the opportunity to do more than promote.

At this Wednesday's regular meeting, the Bainbridge Island City Council will discuss purchasing green power for 100 percent of its facilities.

Bainbridge entered PSE's Green Power Challenge against four other cities last year.

As part of the challenge, participating communities encouraged residents and businesses to purchase PSE's renewable energy service, an option that's been available to customers since 2002.

By meeting or surpassing its goal for new subscribers to the service, communities had the chance to win a $20,000 grant for a solar installation project in their community.

Bainbridge's original goal was to enroll 1,250 new customers by the end of 2013. With support from Sustainable Bainbridge, the city exceeded their goal and ended the challenge with 1,326 new customers enrolled.

True to its promise, PSE will work with the city this year to install a new solar panel on top of Waterfront Park Community Center.

The opportunity to reduce the city's carbon footprint, however, doesn't stop there.

City staff is now asking the council to make Bainbridge a role model by also purchasing green power. The purchase would exemplify the city's public policy to promote sustainability, energy conservation, and reduce fossil fuel consumption and its carbon footprint.

Staff is proposing that 100 percent of the city's approximately 65 electrical accounts utilize green power at no more than $14,370 per year, in addition to the city's current total electrical bill of $350,000 per year.

Because the Green Power Program is not the least costly energy service, the council must authorize the purchase.

Through the program, PSE works with independent producers in the Pacific Northwest to buy clean electricity.

These businesses offer wind, solar, methane from landfills and livestock and other green energy sources.

The purpose of the higher cost, Heather Mulligan of PSE told council earlier this month, is to subsidize long-term renewable energy facility projects — an investment that follows the 2006 state initiative requiring all qualifying utilities to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020.

Since the facility projects are mandatory, all utility customers will be supporting the developments eventually. Green power participants, though, will be contributing right away.

"The voluntary program is purely additional," Mulligan said. "The voluntary program is for those who want to go above and beyond the requirements and help make sure more is coming into the system earlier."

Currently, Mulligan said, 50 percent of Olympia's utility load is met through the Green Power Program, as is Kirkland's. Bellingham and Lacey meet 100 percent of their utility use through the program. And recently, Snoqualmie and Tumwater each signed on for purchases of more than 1 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy.

Since cities are not required to utilize green power at 100 percent of their facilities by buying into the program, the Bainbridge council may decide to modify the purchase at a different level of participation.

At last week's meeting, a move to authorize the purchase stalled after Councilman Roger Townsend asked for a vote but his motion died without a supporting vote.

While most council members had little to say, Councilwoman Sarah Blossom questioned why the city should pay more for the service when it could instead  outfit the city's facilities with more efficient equipment to cut down on its power usage.

Some in the audience disagreed with that move.

"I just want to point out that what this is about is putting our money where our talk is," said Planning Commissioner Maradel Gale.

"PSE gets a tremendous amount of its energy from one of the dirtiest coal plants in the country, in Colstrip, Montana," she continued. "This is a way to encourage them to get away from that. It's about everything we claim to be concerned about, in terms of what we want for our country, for our community, for our children — which is a future that doesn't include things like burning coal."

The council decided to push scheduling an authorization vote into later this month to give absent council members a chance to weigh in.

It will discuss the energy option during the staff intensive portion of this week's study session.

The Bainbridge city council meets at 7 p.m. every Wednesday.

Additional information about the Green Power Program is available at www.pse.com/greenpower.

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