City Light’s hope for more efficient buildings in Seattle starts at 15th and Madison

(Image: CHS)

Bullitt Center’s opening ceremony (Image: CHS)

Seattle City Light wants commercial building developers across the city to think of installing new, more energy-efficient technologies less like tightening the belt and more like installing a wind farm. The effort is getting its start with the 15th and Madison’s ultra-green Bullitt Center.

A new pilot program from Seattle City Light will work with the conservation-focused Bullitt Foundation to make investing in power-saving technology more viable.

“The savings we get, the city will buy from us at the retail rate plus a premium,” said Bullitt president and CEO Denis Hayes. “(The utility) gets this energy for less than it would cost to build a new power plant.”

The program has two parts: first, an energy meter will be installed on the Bullitt Foundation’s new ultra-efficient Bullitt Center. Then, under a 20-year contract with Seattle City Light, the Bullitt Foundation will sell the measured energy savings back to the utility.

Hayes estimated the Bullitt Center will use approximately 230,000 kilowatt-hours per year, compared to about 750,000 for a similarly-sized building built to standard code. The building’s actual energy savings, measured compared to a base case building, will be sold back at the retail rate plus $.025 per kilowatt-hour, he said. A Seattle City Light representative said this rate will total to 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. By CHS’s calculations, the program isn’t going to generate another Bullitt fortune — but it will help the building’s developers reap a larger return on the $30 million invested in creating the hyper efficient building.

Under the traditional setup, potential investors are often reluctant to invest in efficiency upgrades because they aren’t certain they’ll own buildings long enough to recoup the upfront costs of those upgrades, Hayes said.

Sunbomb, originally uploaded by sahafoto.

But under the pilot program, the revenue from the energy savings will go to the original investor regardless of whether they are the current owner of the building.

“It lets that investor be guaranteed a stream of income for 20 years that is directly based on performance,” Hayes said. “If it continues to work well he gets paid as long as the savings are there.”

Thomsen said now that the framework of the agreement is in place, the Bullitt Foundation and Seattle City Light will formalize a contract which the City Council must approve.

Thomsen said the utility hopes the program is successful enough to expand to other commercial developments in the city, both for new buildings and retrofitting old buildings with high-efficiency technologies.

“There is a timeframe for evaluation at about three years to see how (the program) is going and moving forward, but that’s a detail that is yet to be worked out,” a City Light representative said.

“In our case it’s a relatively easy experiment,” Bullitt’s Hayes said. “We’ve already made the investments because we wanted to make the most efficient building we possibly could. It’s a good way for the utility to see how the meter works… without sticking their neck out a country mile.”

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About Sam Heft-Luthy

I've lived on Capitol Hill since age 0.5. Now I'm channeling that Hill experience into my work as 2013 CHS Summer Intern, where I'll be reporting on community happenings, art, music, and just about everything going on around the neighborhood.

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