Wind power now keeping D.C. trains on time

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 15, 2013

A central fixture in keeping Congress running is now relying 100 percent on wind energy.

Union Station in Washington, D.C., has signed a three-year contract with Herndon, Va.-based Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES) to fulfill all its electricity needs from wind farms based around the region, the company announced this week.

Union Station is where Amtrak, suburban commuter trains and the city’s subway system all meet and is the main transportation artery — as well as lunch and coffee spot — for congressional staffers, constituents and journalists visiting and working at the Senate, House and Capitol. About 37 million people pass through Union Station every year, according to a statement released by WGES and Union Station.

Union Station previously had a contract with WGES to procure wind power for 50 percent of its 18.9 million kilowatt-hours of annual consumption. Union Station’s move to 100 percent wind energy will remove the carbon emissions equivalent of taking about 2,700 cars off the road for one year, WGES said.

The landmark building has also reduced its electricity, steam and chilled water utility use by nearly 15 percent by replacing aged heating and cooling systems, Mark Polhemus, general manager of Union Station, said in an email. Union Station is hosting Earth Month 2013 this month to raise awareness of environmental issues and encourage sustainability.

Union Station’s agreement is part of WGES’s CleanSteps WindPower program, which offers customers contracts to provide either 50 percent or 100 percent of their electricity needs through wind. WGES then buys the equivalent wind power from suppliers in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest and boosts the percentage of wind-generated electricity within the supply of the PJM transmission system that brings electricity into the area. Wind projects are certified by a third party, Green-e Energy.

While switching to wind energy is a fraction of a cent per kilowatt-hour more expensive, costs continue to go down as more people sign up, especially since the program started in 2003, said Harry Warren, president of WGES.

“The good news there is that increasing demand creates more construction, which allows economy of scale and lower costs … so the premium customers have to pay goes down,” especially as larger participants like Union Station provide credibility and visibility, Warren said in an interview. “CleanSteps has grown to be tremendously popular,” he added.

The decade-old CleanSteps program has more than 20,000 participants: about 18,000 residential and several thousand commercial accounts including Union Station, the University of Maryland, Panera Bread of Maryland, the Mandarin Oriental hotel of D.C. and the state of Delaware, WGES said.

Last month WGES also signed a one-year contract with the District of Columbia government to bump up its wind power consumption from 50 percent to 100 percent to power all of its buildings and electricity needs. U.S. EPA has named D.C. a leading Green Power Community for its environmental efforts.