Wind energy is flowing into D.C., but don’t expect your bill to decrease

Source: By Abigail Hauslohner, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015

District officials announced Wednesday that the city is now receiving enough electricity from wind power to meet one-third of the local government’s electricity needs under a deal that took effect Aug. 1.

The deal, with the Spanish energy company Iberdrola Renewables, supplies city facilities with 125,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually from a wind farm in Pennsylvania, officials said.

Although officials said the power surge promises to save the city government as much as $45 million on its electric bills over the next 20 years, they also said it will have no impact on residential customers’ monthly utility bills.

The power flows only to government facilities, unlike in some other towns and cities across the country, where local utilities are advancing opportunities for private properties to go green.

“I don’t think there is any impact on individual electricity bills,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wednesday at a news conference promoting the deal.

Nor will the agreement create much in the way of District jobs, because the Iberdrola wind farm is elsewhere.

But, Bowser said, the energy agreement “reduces our carbon footprint by removing roughly 100 tons of carbon pollution. And that is 17 percent of our total government emissions — the equivalent of taking 125,000 cars off the road.”

The deal with Iberdrola, which city officials said represents the largest power-purchase agreement that a single American city has undertaken, will allow the District to purchase all of the wind energy produced by Iberdrola’s wind farm at a fixed rate through 2036.

“In a sense, it’s like a fixed-rate mortgage,” said Barrett Stambler, Iberdrola’s vice president of renewable origination, who spoke alongside the mayor and other city officials Wednesday. “When you’re dealing with fossil fuels, you really can’t provide a fixed-contract price, because you really don’t know what the cost of fossil fuels will be.”

Bowser has said she is committed to fostering a “green future” for the District. This year, her administration announced some changes to a $2.6 billion project that she said would help the city better deal with its aging system of sewage and wastewater removal.

On Wednesday, Tommy Wells, director of the newly renamed Department of Energy and the Environment, said the city was on track to outfit 130 low-income homes with solar panels by the end of September.

He also said that the department would soon announce an additional $6 million to expand the city’s solar-energy project.

“Washington, D.C., is leading the nation in creating affordable green energy,” Bowser said. By 2032, the city has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, and by 2050, 80 percent. “And some of us are still going to be around for those dates,” she added.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the District is the largest “green power community” in the nation, with an annual green-power usage of 1.2 billion kilowatt hours.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the most energy-efficient. That total amounts to only 13 percent of total electricity use for government, residential and business properties in the District.

In contrast, Hillsboro, Ore., meets 51 percent of its energy needs with green energy — even though it uses slightly less green energy than the District, according to the EPA.

And Burlington, Vt., the home of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and leftist political policy, claims to be producing more renewable energy than the city uses, which by its definition makes it “100 percent” renewable. The town of Georgetown, Tex., just north of Austin, has also signed an agreement with SunEdison to use only solar and wind power for government and private use — by 2017.

Asked why the District wasn’t striving for 100 percent use of wind energy, Mark Chambers, the associate director of sustainability and energy at the D.C. Department of General Services, said that meeting 35 percent of the District’s energy needs through wind power “was a sensible long-term investment for the city to make.”

“We really wanted to understand a little bit more about how the market works,” said Chambers, who led the negotiations for the deal on behalf of the city. “It’s also still substantial — and the largest power-purchase agreement that a single city has ever done in the U.S.”