Green Up!

Seattle University joins forces with Puget Sound Energy to kick off new ‘green’ natural gas program
2011-06-09
By Stacy Howard
studentctrsolarpanel

The university is proud to partner with Puget Sound Energy, which recently launched a new program aimed at helping natural gas customers shrink their carbon footprint. Seattle U is the first commercial customer to take advantage of the utility’s Carbon Balance Program to offset 100 percent of its natural gas usage.

Approved this spring by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, the program allows PSE customers to essentially neutralize the greenhouse-gas emissions from their natural gas use by purchasing carbon offsets from independently verified projects in the Pacific Northwest.

“Puget Sound Energy wants to help our customers go green,” said Cal Shirley, PSE vice president of Energy Efficiency Services. “We’re committed to helping reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. One way we do that is by supporting projects in our region that give our customers the choice and ability to reduce their carbon footprint in a simple, low-cost way.”

Seattle University, which heats its campus buildings and water with natural gas, began offsetting 100 percent of its gas usage through the Carbon Balance Program on May 1. 

“As a nationally recognized leader in sustainability, Seattle University has developed innovative approaches to green-building design, landscaping without pesticides and composting of cafeteria food waste,” said Seattle University Executive Vice President Timothy Leary. “We’re pleased to partner with Puget Sound Energy on reducing our carbon footprint and providing a model for what other universities can achieve.” 

The university estimates that its purchase of carbon offsets will lower the school’s greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 6.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually or the equivalent of taking more than 530 cars off the road for one year.  

“Seattle University is leading by example,” Shirley said. “The university is demonstrating that, individually, we can choose to make a positive difference for our planet.” 

While natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, there are greenhouse-gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, associated with burning the gas. PSE’s new, voluntary program – modeled after the utility’s award-winning Green power Porgram for electric customers – gives PSE’s natural gas customers the opportunity to purchase blocks of carbon offsets. The offsets are generated at local dairy digesters that reduce or capture greenhouse gases. 

The first carbon offsets PSE customers can purchase in the Carbon Balance Program are  from a biogas anaerobic digester at the George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy in Outlook, Wash. PSE is purchasing the dairy’s carbon offsets through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation on behalf of Carbon Balance Program participants. The offsets meet the verification protocol established by the Climate Action Reserve, North America’s largest carbon offset standard. 

Dairy farms traditionally have stored their cows’ manure in outdoor ponds, with the manure’s methane gas venting into the atmosphere.  Methane is a greenhouse gas, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The DeRuyter Dairy digester captures the methane, and then burns it in an on-site generator to produce electricity outside of PSE’s service area.   

The DeRuyter digester will capture more than 1.7 million pounds of methane annually, which is equivalent to over 37 million pounds of carbon dioxide or taking more than 3,000 cars off the road for one year.  Five dairy digesters operate in Washington State, with more in development. 

Natural gas customers can purchase carbon-offset blocks at $4 each and have these charges added to their monthly PSE bills. One block is equivalent to removing 400 pounds of carbon dioxide from the environment. The average residential natural gas customer using 68 therms of natural gas per month can be carbon neutral, offsetting 100 percent of his natural gas use, by purchasing two 400 pound blocks at $8 per month.  

Commercial and industrial customers can also join the program with a minimum purchase of two blocks for $8. Because natural gas usage varies greatly between individual commercial and industrial customers, PSE will work directly with these groups of customers to help determine their annual natural gas usage and the number of blocks needed to achieve a 100 percent offset.  

Commercial and industrial customers who purchase a minimum of five blocks ($20) per month will be recognized as environmental leaders in our community and will receive recognition benefits such as window clings, a wall plaque and a link to their companies’ websites on PSE’s Carbon Balance Program Web page.  

For more information about PSE’s Carbon Balance Program for natural gas customers or to join the program, call a PSE Energy Advisor at 1-800-562-1482, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or visit PSE.com/CarbonBalance.