Sunday — Earth Day 2018 — Capitol Hill’s Bullitt Center at 15th and Madison celebrated five years at “the greenest office building” in the world. At this point, Earth Day is probably the kind of thing we should think about all year round. A new project at Capitol Hill’s Miller Community Center is set to make the Seattle Parks facility part of an important test case for the city with plans for a $3.3 million solar microgrid to be installed in early 2019.
“Seattle is a leader in climate change, and with this project, we are adding sustainable, emission-free energy to the community,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in the announcement of the project to be funded through City Light investing $1.8 million and a $1.5 million state Clean Energy Fund matching grant from the Washington Department of Commerce. “Protecting our environment and lowering operating costs of our facilities makes good economic sense and is an important step as we move towards becoming a green economy.”
The $3.3 million “demonstration project” microgrid is expected to reduce the amount of electricity Seattle Parks buys from Seattle City Light, while saving about $4,000 annually, and about $70,000 over the 14-year life of the project, the city says.
According to the city, the microgrid will work by capturing solar energy with photovoltaic panels and then storing the energy in a large commercial battery on site. City Light plans to study and test features of the microgrid “to increase opportunities for improving its effectiveness and finding new applications of the technology.”
While many sustainability initiatives can feel like little more than lip service with competing priorities in the booming city, solar energy — even here in cloudy Seattle — has become an increasingly ubiquitous environmental optimization. Late last year, CHS reported on the grant-powered projects to add new photovoltaic panels on top of First Hill’s Harborview Medical Center and Broadway’s Seattle Central College. Another example is North Capitol Hill’s new Station 22 fire house where solar panels were part of the green project’s attributes. The private sector is also looking toward the sun. Elysian plans to transition its brewing operations in Seattle to be 100% wind and solar produced energy. Not every new program to encourage more solar-powered investments has been a hit, however. CHS reported here on the struggles of a City Light program to sell locally-produced solar power to resident. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill is also home to 10th Ave E’s Bertschi School and its Living Science Building.
And, of course, it remains home to the Bullitt Center. Opened at 15th and Madison in 2013, the rare Seattle “Living Building” is still considered one of the greenest commercial projects in the world. Designed by the Miller-Hull Partnership, the heavy-timber building rises from the upward slope of E Madison above where Capitol Hill old-timers might remember the old CC’s gay bar used to stand. A huge array of solar paneling crowns the glass and steel exterior. With
more than 40% 100% of the building’s power needs coming from the sun, the Bullitt Center is also a marvel of infrastructure. Living buildings also require that 100% of water be self-contained. Buildings are expected to collect stormwater, use it and treat it on-site.
“The Bullitt Center is proof that profitable, zero energy Living Buildings are possible,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, in a statement on the fifth anniversary of the building’s opening. “To meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, all buildings need to do the same.”
The foundation says the building is currently 100% leased “with a diverse mix of tenants that include Sonos, Intentional Futures, PAE Consulting Engineers, University of Washington’s Center for Integrated Design, International Living Future Institute, and Hammer & Hand.”
According to Bullitt, Seattle City Light buys energy the building does not use (“negawatt-hours”) for a total of approximately $50,000 each year. This is rebated to tenants who meet their energy goals as an incentive for energy efficiency. Earlier this month, Seattle expanded the pilot program to 30 additional Seattle buildings.
The foundation says the center is also an eco-tour stop in Seattle with more than 25,000 people touring the building, including “the President of Bulgaria, Mayor of Copenhagen, U.S. Secretary of Energy, EPA Administrator, U.S. Senators and Governors, along with thousands of architects, engineers and builders.”
The foundation also says the center has been a huge environmental success, “generating 20% more energy than it used every year since it opened, using only one-third as much energy as a well-run LEED Platinum building, and, they add, using 95% less water than the average office building in Seattle, “despite having showers on every floor.”
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