A wind farm in Idaho. Credit: US DOE

On Thursday, August 2, the Sound Transit Board’s Executive Committee approved a plan to power Link almost entirely from renewable energy resources, as part of a program ST developed with regional governments and Puget Sound Energy (PSE.)

By July 2019, Sound Transit will lower its emissions by 71 percent, with renewable energy generated by a new wind farm, which will come online that month. In 2021, PSE will finish construction on a new solar array in central Washington which will allow Link to operate on 100 percent renewable energy. Systemwide, 96 percent of Sound Transit’s energy will be generated by renewables.

The contract also locks in Sound Transit’s PSE electricity rates at agreed levels for the next ten years, which could save the agency some operations cost. Sound Transit staff said that they intend to negotiate similar green energy deals with relevant utilities as the Link system expands. 

The 4 percent of the energy that is not renewable will be purchased on the open energy market. Utilities use fossil fuel capacity when renewable generation is not possible or is suboptimal, or when demand exceeds renewable capacity. Solar plants can’t generate at night, for example, and wind plants can’t generate if air is stagnant.

The program is part of PSE’s Green Direct initiative, which the utility developed at the behest of regional governments and major corporate partners. According to King County Executive and ST board member Dow Constantine, the ST move is part of a larger regional push to cut carbon emissions.

“King County’s signing on to [Green Direct] reduced and is reducing our climate impact, our carbon emissions, by 20 percent,” Constantine said. “These are not really incremental steps—these are big steps forward.”

“In committing to creating electric, high capacity rail, our conversion to an all electric bus system, and our insistence that our vendor provide us with the kind of power we want, we are changing the [energy] market.”

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Link itself will be powered entirely by renewables, while Sound Transit’s overall energy supply will be 96 percent renewable.

30 Replies to “Updated: Link to run entirely on renewable energy”

  1. And meanwhile, the Mariner’s want to add more parking to their field – paid for with public dollars. That seems to completely counteract any good LINK is doing here. Why build more parking when we have a efficient people delivery system already?

    1. $100,000 for each new parking stall is not out of line for parking garages in this region. $501 toaster, um, that probably is a rip-off.

      Why does Safeco Field need more parking when they have been able to sell out the stadium without adding more parking? The way to sell out the stadium is with higher-quality play, not more parking.

      1. Oh, and full inter-league play so that the season ticket isn’t full of endless A’s, Astros, Angels, and Rangers games would probably improve sales. That’s a cheaper way to refresh the sport than $50K of furniture in each luxury suite. Having more games against the Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Rockies could also contribute to carbon footprint reduction.

        Another improvement in the game-day experience would be less of an obstacle course of panhandlers and campers, which is why investing some of the hotel tax into building housing is a much better deal for fans and taxpayers.

      2. Three possibilities.(1) More parking spaces attracts more people to the luxury boxes. (2) As a convenience to their customers. They may be hearing a lot of screaming about how they need more parking because it’s so hard to get to the game. (3) They plan to make money on parking fees.

      3. Why should the city build them parking garages if the team gets to keep all the parking revenue? It feels like the taxpayers are getting ripped off.

    2. Based on the traffic I got stuck in after yesterday’s game, I don’t see how they can argue for trying to accommodate a single additional vehicle. Related note: anyone who believes people driving to games in SoDo is better than Key Arena either has been smoking too much or has never actually tried getting out of the area after a game finishes.

  2. They need to electrify those sounder, cascades and rapidride diesels they have. Maybe they can talk BNSF to electrifying track…not.

  3. Because in case you didn’t notice, Link doesn’t serve the region very well, nor is the Stadium station close to the stadium (especially if you’re elderly, disabled, or toting small children). The garage is small compared to the demand for it, and sells out every game, regardless of actual stadium attendance. It’s also a revenue generator for the team and County/Stadium District. I say let them have a new garage. If you don’t want to drive, then don’t.

    1. “It’s also a revenue generator for the team and County/Stadium District. I say let them have a new garage.”

      Great, they can fund their own garage.

      1. Hear hear! I love the Mariners, but they, like Mercer Island, can have as big a parking garage they want. All they have to do is pay for it.

        PS— I’m old enough to have gone to Mariners’ games when I could park for free on the street smack-dab in front of the Kingdome.

      2. More parking at Safeco Field means more people driving into and out of downtown when traffic is already bad. Which means slower and less reliable service on every bus passing through the area.

        If the parking garage sells out, raise the price until it does not sell out.

    2. “Link doesn’t serve the region very well”

      Interesting point. Is the garage just for the gap until 2024 or 2040? Should it be? Does it make sense to build it then? Downtown is about to go through a “period of maximum constraint” for transit and the powers that be are mostly telling us to just suck it up.

    3. “If you don’t want to drive, then don’t,” but your bus will be stuck behind those extra cars just so we’re real clear what we think of this “choice”.

      Public investments are collective choices that should be made based on our collective needs. More car parking anywhere near downtown ain’t one of ’em.

    4. The future of arriving to games by car: less driving and parking, and more taking an Uber or it’s near future driverless version. At least, so the anti Link expansion talking point went. Why are we still talking about massive parking structures for events in the 21st Century???

  4. All excellent points! And really easy to get on topic! In permanently globally changed weather, every parking lot must be storing enough solar energy to blow every fuse on the sun! And read somewhere that it could be possible to put plate mechanisms under the lanes that’ll generate power every time something drives over them.

    But even more important, sudden shift in focus from major improvement in energy source to panhandlers and campers should generate enough methane to turn Elliott Bay into a giant combination hydroelectric turbine and massive steam-powered generator! But even better! Even better!:

    As more and more light rail goes underground, the air every train pushes enough air through the tube to power the gate on every parking lot in the ST service area. Meantime, here’s established principle sort of in reverse.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGUvSTvZiD4

    Also warning to the NRA: proof that subway-loving liberals have a history of breaking the law in defiance of a corrupt crooked government (look up “Tammany Hall” – though it did at least try to keep corruption within the budget of the average person). To secure their freedom by moving under, instead of sinking into streets repaved by the horsedrawn minute!

    Will leave the sun out of this one.

    Mark

  5. OK. Need to stop trying to be funny half an hour after losing my temper on a day the Lost and Found is closed. Everybody just go back and read Sound Transit Blog’s first reaction to only piece of positive news since Inauguration Day 2017 for our industry, and our Country.

    At least the coal miners and oil-field workers are grateful their side finally got something. After working lives worse than a lot of Seattle-ites’ existence under tarps. Apologies, Peter. We’re better than this. Martin, Frank where the Hell are you? I’m [OUT] or here!

    Mark Dublin

  6. Doesn’t Calgary’s LR system run 100% on wind power? So why are we okay with playing second fiddle to a prairie town in Canada? We shouldn’t be! I want a full investigation.

    And how renewable powered is our bus fleet? Can we get a direct comparison please?

    1. >> And how renewable powered is our bus fleet? Can we get a direct comparison please?

      I was thinking the same thing. I would assume that the trolleys all run on Seattle City Light power. According to Wikipedia, the most recent official fuel mix statistics by the state of Washington for Seattle City Light show approximately 89.6% hydroelectric, 4.3% nuclear, 3.6% wind, 0.9% coal, 0.9% other (including biomass, natural gas, petroleum and waste), and 0.7% landfill gases.

      1. But aren’t the trolleys just a tiny fraction of the overall Metro bus fleet? What would be the overall renewable energy fraction for the Metro fleet?

        I’m guessing pretty small, but it would be nice to have a number.

  7. What percent of Link uses renewable power today?

    I also don’t understand why so much focus is on PSE. By my rough estimate, 75% of Link’s tracks run through Seattle today. Why isn’t Link primarily powered through Seattle City Light? I would think they actual connections to the grid are not that many along the line so I think Sound Transit could choose which utility powers the train. I know that’ll get harder the more Link expands into the suburbs. So is this forward looking for once East Link and Federal Way Link opens? Or is Link exclusively powered by PSE today so this is actually a big improvement from how Link is powered today?

    1. Utility provider is based on location. For ST, it depends on where the traction power substations are, b/c that’s where the Link system “plugs” into the grid. If the substation is within SCL territory, then that substation pulls power from the SCL grid, and if it’s within the PSE territory, then it pulls power from the PSE grid. I don’t believe ST can choose it’s provider, unless it wants to file with the UTC to become a wholesale purchaser (which MSFT did recently for it’s Redmond campus).

      Right now, most of Link is presumably powered by SCL. Most of East Link & Lynnwood and all of Federal Way will be powered by PSE.

      1. Thanks, AJ. This is the type of info I was looking for. My initial take is that this agreement allows ST to extend its current carbon-neutral power situation with Seattle City Light as the Link system expands into PSE territory.

        Would still like to know what portion of Link electricity (if any) is pulled from PSE at the current time. Do they have major traction substations on the Tukwila segment? Checking a map, the SCL service area extends as far south a S. 160th St, so TIBS is in while Airport and Angle Lake Stations are out.

        I do think it is sad how much PSE foot-drags ending fossil fuel use, forcing organizations to forge special deals to get green power. Their management is seriously out of alignment with the political consensus here.

        SCL has been buying offsets for the 2% of fossil fuel power than it purchases for years, to be a 100% carbon neutral provider.

      2. The substations are placed roughly evenly throughout the system, so there are a few in the Tukwilla to Angel Lake but I don’t know how many.

        Having worked for PSE previously, I can say that PSE’s generation mix is completely regulated by the WUTC, a state commission. PSE has a mandate to purchase “least cost” power. Unless that state mandate changes, it’s financial suicide for PSE to shut off its gas plants.
        If you want to dive in more: https://pse.com/aboutpse/EnergySupply/Pages/Resource-Planning.aspx

        So I’d direct your ire at people like Gov Inslee, who pretend to care about the environment but are all bark and little bite, rather than PSE, which is stuck with a generation fleet built mostly in the 70s.

      3. AJ, thanks for the clarity. Can you (or Peter Johnson?) opine whether ST actually and solely caused this particular wind-farm project to happen? In general, it’s hard to see how any particular user’s power is “greener” than anyone else’s – power gets generated in whatever mix of sources (presumably according to WUTC plan), is transmitted through the grid, and I don’t see “source labels” on the power as it enters my home and finds its way to my computer.

      4. Yes, ST will not be assured that all of it’s “electrons” are green – that’s not how grids work.

        But with this tariff, a new wind farm will be built specifically to meet the annual demand of the tariff payers, of which ST is one. So ST is not “solely” responsible, but the money is going to build a wind farm that wouldn’t be built otherwise.

  8. To clarify, while PSE as a whole requires some non-wind/solar power for grid balancing, there is no need for Sound Transit to take some of that power. ST power is not literally from the wind and solar power being built, they are just purchasing the green attributes.

    Also, the grid balancing power does not need to be fossil fuels; hydro is actually the most responsive for balancing.

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