City Council resolution calls for district energy framework

The City Council approved a resolution to move forward with the creation of a framework under which district energy could operate, citing Yesler Terrace as the most likely candidate for the first project. The study would look specifically at how legal contracts between the city, energy providers, operators and customers could work, bringing the creation of such a system one step closer.

As we reported in July, a recent feasibility study showed Yesler Terrace and First Hill as the best candidates for a new district energy system. With the pending large-scale redevelopment of Yesler Terrace on the horizon, the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) sees a unique opportunity to get the system installed in conjunction with other road and building work.

A district energy system consists of a series of underground pipes carrying energy, typically in the form of steam or hot water, that buildings can pull from for their heating needs. Getting the pipes in the ground is a significant cost unless it can be done in conjunction with other road and building work. Results from modernized systems all over the world have shown district energy to be more efficient and more versatile than systems where individual buildings take care of their own heating.

From the City Council:

Today, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31329, supporting the efforts of the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) to create a framework for a district energy system for the First Hill/Yesler Terrace area. 

“District energy systems are one of the most effective ways to provide affordable and clean energy for heating and hot water,” stated Council President Richard Conlin, Chair of the Regional Development and Sustainability Committee. “Generating energy in a central location and distributing it to nearby areas is much more efficient than having separate heating units in each building.”

The resolution calls for OSE to work with other City departments, non-City agencies, and entities with technical, financial, legal, or other expertise, to generate key information to provide the framework for proceeding into the next stage of district energy development. OSE is asked to review these approaches:

1.    A “strategic district energy partnership” which the City would drive through contracts with private companies that deliver the district heating services.

2.    Creating a smaller, stand-alone district energy system for Yesler Terrace which could possibly be expanded in the future.

3.    Creating a municipal heating district. 

Currently, Seattle’s downtown is served by a system for heat and hot water to some 200 buildings. Last year, OSE reviewed the opportunities for new and expanded district energy systems around Seattle. Based on that study, OSE recommends moving forward with planning to expand district energy systems on First Hill, including at the new Yesler Terrace redevelopment.

OSE recommends that the City move forward with creating a legal framework and contracts for utility service in 2012. OSE also recommends exploring promising future opportunities in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and the University District.

Background: Seattle is one of the fortunate cities around the world that already has a very well functioning district energy system, operated by Seattle Steam Company, and serving some 200 buildings downtown and on First Hill.  Seattle Steam has been operating its system for 115 years. Energy analysts around the world have begun to understand how efficient and clean district heating systems can be and as Seattle Steam has taken on a new importance, the company has invested in new technologies to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and maximize the efficiency of its energy use.  The University of Washington also operates a district energy system serving campus buildings.

One thought on “City Council resolution calls for district energy framework

  1. For its first 30+ years, Yesler Terrace had steam heat, provided by a central steam plant — the landmarked building at 9th and Spruce with the smoke stack. Baseboard electric heating was installed in the late 70s when YT had a comprehensive renovation — not only the heat source changed, but, among other things, plumbing and wiring were upgraded.

    And the neighborhood’s getting a new trolley as well — I want the Yesler Way cable car reinstalled, as long as we are being all retro-visionary.