City Light Manages Skagit Flows to Protect 300,000 Salmon Eggs

Salmon eggs and fry in a redd, or nest.

Summer Chinook salmon spawn in the Skagit river from August through October each year — Photo by Dave Bickford, courtesty of U.S. Forest Service

Many Chinook salmon eggs laid in the Skagit River system last fall faced grim prospects for survival amid challenging water conditions. But a coordinated effort by Seattle City Light working with state and federal resource agencies and tribes along with an exceptionally wet March and April gave more than 300,000 of them the chance to grow up.

“From November through February, this appeared to be one of the worst water years we had seen in quite a while. It was some great teamwork and a huge increase in precipitation in March and April that really turned things around,” said Dave Clement, Resource Planning, Forecasting, and Analysis Director for City Light.

Chinook salmon spawning season typically lasts from mid-August to mid-October each year. This past September, during the peak of spawning activity, record rainfall levels allowed chinook salmon to dig nest sites in areas that would be dry when water levels returned to normal.

The summer Chinook salmon are a federally-listed species with Endangered Species Act protection. But dry weather conditions from November 2013 through February of this year meant those salmon eggs were likely to be left out to dry and die.

“The situation required the release of far more water from the hydro project than we had originally planned so as to protect as many of the salmon nest sites as possible,” explained David Pflug, fisheries biologist at City Light.

City Light manages flow levels in the Skagit River system to meet a several key objectives each year: protecting fish that live and spawn in the river downstream, generating sufficient power to meet the energy needs of our customers throughout the year, preventing floods downstream of the dams and keeping the river and Ross Lake at elevations that permit recreation such as boating and fishing. In addition, Ross Lake serves an important function as a reservoir to hold water that is used to generate electricity in drier times during the year.

The trick is managing the right water levels for each of these objectives, while working with highly variable precipitation levels that are ultimately decided on by Mother Nature.

That’s the situation City Light found itself in earlier this year. The region had one of the lowest levels of precipitation in more than a decade from November to February, and was facing perhaps one of the worst water years in history.

Ross Dam on the Skagit River creates Ross Lake, which is full for summer recreation and hydropower generation.

Pflug works closely with the utility’s Resource Planning staff, who plan optimum water levels. He discovered that there were many Chinook salmon redds spawned high on the riverbank in September during the rainy spawning season. The dry weather conditions during winter meant it would be difficult to protect the redds under normal operations.

That information went to the Skagit Project Flow Coordinating Committee comprised of state, federal fisheries resource agencies and tribe. City Light’s Resource Planning team worked with the committee to come up with a plan to protect the nest sites, which required the release of additional water and taking the risk of not being able to refill Ross Lake for use later in the year. With the survival of the Chinook at stake, the plan was approved.

City Light kept the river flow levels up to protect the salmon nests from November of 2013 to May of 2014. It took a significant amount of teamwork, including daily monitoring of water elevation levels and careful management to ensure the protection of the nests. Coordination between multiple divisions ensued, including Pflug, Power Management planners Ole Kjosnes and Don Tinker, the Power Marketing team and the System Control Center team. Continuing dry conditions also worried resource planners about the ability refill Ross Lake, which powers Ross Dam through the summer and is a key recreational area within the North Cascades National Park complex.

 

These graphs show the cumulative snowpack and precipitation levels, measured in inches. The blue line is the average level, while the green line tracks the dry water year of 2014. The yellow line, by way of comparison, measures levels during the severe dry spell of water year 2001.

Then came the wettest March in history.

And more precipitation in April.

That rain and the snow that fell higher up in the mountains provided the water for City Light to protect the redds and refill the lake. This voluntary effort resulted in the protection of 31 nest sites that would have otherwise been lost– a resounding success, especially considering their initial odds of survival.

Those 31 redds add up to approximately 300,000 protected salmon eggs.

A full Ross Lake will allow for increased river flows through July, enabling better protection of Steelhead that will be spawning the Skagit River and additional energy generation from City Light’s Ross, Diablo and Gorge hydroelectric dams.

“It was a good thing we released more water than we normally would have – because that made room in Ross Lake to collect more of the large amount of water that came in March and April and avoided some spill through the spill gates,” Clement said. “So in a way, the fish helped us out, too.”

Seattle City Light is the 10th-largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 750,000 Seattle-area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction. More information at: http://www.seattle.gov/light/

City Light Staff Help Third-Graders with Solar Energy Project

Renewable Energy Outreach Coordinator Jack Newman meets with third-graders at John Stanford International School in Wallingford.

Seattle City Light employees met with third-graders at John Stanford International School in Wallingford recently to discuss the students’ project related to global warming and climate change.

While City Light gets 90 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable hydropower and the utility has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, worldwide production of electricity from coal- and gas-powered plants is the leading contributor of carbon dioxide emissions.

At the Stanford school, teacher Margie Butcher challenged her students to propose a strategy with the aim of addressing this concern. The strategy the students picked was to support the installation of solar panels.

Jack Newman and Suzanne DuRard from City Light’s Conservation Resources Division met with the class to discuss the utility’s clean energy fuel mix, renewable energy programs and recently completed solar energy projects, including Community Solar and Sonic Bloom. Students also asked about state financial incentives for the installation of solar panels; the economics of installing solar panels at your home or business; and the challenges of maintaining the electricity distribution network as more people generate their own solar electricity.

“The students were very alert, with each group’s selected note-taker thoughtfully recording notes throughout my presentation,” Newman said. “It was an honor to talk with and learn from such engaged 3rd graders. I am proud of their focus to support renewable energy in Seattle.”

With residential solar installations on the increase, Seattle City Light’s customers are eager to learn more about renewable energy and how their utility will position itself in the new landscape of distributed generation. Jack Newman’s work as renewable energy outreach coordinator serves as one response to this growing demand for solar energy education and community engagement. As the Nation’s Greenest Utility, Seattle City Light is learning every day about the community’s interest in renewable energy, which was highlighted in the John Stanford International School’s solar energy student projects.

Community Solar Coming to Phinney Ridge

 

Seattle City Light is partnering with Woodland Park Zoo and the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) to install the state’s largest community solar project.

“Customers continue to tell us they want solar electricity and we are creating that opportunity,” General Manager and CEO Jorge Carrasco said. “This project will allow hundreds of people to buy solar power even if they can’t install panels at their own homes or businesses.”

The Community Solar on Phinney Ridge project is designed for a system of about 74 kilowatts on the roofs of two buildings at the zoo and PNA’s Phinney Center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is expected to produce more than 75,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

“As stewards for thousands of individual animals and plants, as well as caretakers of a historic built environment, Woodland Park Zoo continues to strive to be the community’s most exciting, living showcase of sustainability through leading by example,” zoo Chief Operations Officer Bruce Bohmke said. “This project offers another way for us to engage our community.”

Anyone with a City Light account can purchase part of the array’s output for $150 per unit. The cost can be added to a participant’s electric bill and paid in two installments. Customers can buy up to 125 units. Participants receive credit for their units’ production on their City Light bills through June 30, 2020, along with all state renewable energy production incentives.

 

Units will go on sale soon. Interested people can learn more and sign up to be alerted when sales begin at www.seattle.gov/communitysolar .

 

“The PNA was a partner in the very successful Solarize Seattle: Northwest program last spring, and many area residents asked about community solar,” neighborhood association Executive Director Lee Harper said. “We are thrilled to be able to follow through for those people who can’t put solar on their own house by helping us put it on our building. It will be great to power our community events with clean community solar power. It certainly is in keeping with our mission to engage and serve our community.”

 

This is the third Community Solar project installed by Seattle City Light. The first is located at Jefferson Park in Beacon Hill. The second project at The Seattle Aquarium sold out in just six weeks.

 

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.

Seattle City Light, Seattle Aquarium Celebrate Solar Project Success

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien shares his enthusiasm for renewable energy at the Community Solar celebration.

Dozens of solar electricity investors joined City Light and the Seattle Aquarium today, to celebrate the successful installation of the largest solar array at any aquarium on the West Coast as part of the utility’s Community Solar and Green Up programs.

“Investing in alternative energy is an important element of the aquarium’s vision, and fits perfectly with our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment” aquarium President and CEO Robert Davidson said. “Using clean, green energy supports healthy marine ecosystems by reducing our facility’s carbon footprint. It also supports one of the Aquarium’s key messages: that everyone can make a difference in the preservation of Puget Sound and our one world ocean.”

NW Wind & Solar of Seattle installed the $330,000 system, which covers a large portion of the south side of the Seattle Aquarium’s roof. The 247 panels for the 49.4 kilowatt system were purchased from Marysville-based Silicon Energy, promoting more green jobs in Western Washington.

Most of the panels produce electricity on behalf of 187 City Light customers who bought 1,800 units of solar power through the utility’s Community Solar program. The rest of the panels serve as a demonstration project through the utility’s voluntary Green Up renewable energy program with the electricity produced helping to power the Aquarium’s operations.

Each 24 watt unit of the solar installation cost $150.

This is Seattle City Light’s second Community Solar project. The first was installed in Beacon Hill at Jefferson Park in 2012.

“Community Solar demonstrates Seattle City Light’s commitment to meeting the energy needs of our customers in an environmentally sustainable manner and shows why we call ourselves The Nation’s Greenest Utility,” City Light Chief of Staff Sephir Hamilton said.

“This innovative project lets customers promote and benefit from solar even if they rent, have shady roofs or can’t make the big investment of installing their own solar system,” Hamilton said. “When customers invest in solar, they also think harder about reducing their own electricity use in order to make the most of their solar production credits.”

Participants receive credit on their City Light accounts for their portions of the solar panels’ output through 2020 along with all state production incentives. Together, those credits amount to $1.15 per kilowatt-hour. City Light estimates that participants will receive more than $150 worth of electricity and production incentives for each unit purchased by the end of their agreements. Details are available online.

“As soon as I found out about this program I was excited about the opportunity to participate in solar even though I live in a multi-family building,” said Gina Hicks, who purchased the maximum 125 units. “I knew how attractive it would be to renters and people who live in buildings like mine where it’s difficult to get their own solar arrays installed. I’ve been spreading the word about Community Solar ever since.”

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 1 million Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.

 

City of Seattle releases progress report of key environmental goals

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray today released Moving the Needle, an environmental progress report that pulls together Seattle’s key environmental goals and reports on their progress and achievements.

“Seattle has been an environmental leader for years, with many laudable environmental goals throughout the city’s offices and departments. Until now, these have all been tracked separately,” said Murray. “Moving the Needle presents the key goals and metrics and paints a single picture of how we are doing on the environmental commitments we’ve made over the years.”

Moving the Needle reports on 35 goals across seven areas: buildings and energy; transportation and land use; food; waste; water; trees and green space; and climate change. This report provides a comprehensive look across environmental sectors, and demonstrates how the goals work together to create a bold environmental vision for the Emerald City.

View the report here.

“Informed by Moving the Needle, I look forward to working with the community to identify where we are strong, where we can do better, and where there are real opportunities for innovation,” said Murray. “In the coming months I will convene environmental leaders and community partners to ensure the city’s environmental priorities reflect a strong commitment to equity, race, and social justice and I plan to put forward an environmental action agenda by Earth Day 2015.”

Moving the Needle will be updated biennially to track progress over time. The report was developed by the City’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, which works with City departments, community organizations, nonprofits, residents, and businesses to help Seattle achieve its environmental goals.

– See more at: http://murray.seattle.gov/city-of-seattle-releases-progress-report-of-key-environmental-goals/#sthash.Ch67Rjov.PurSA5fi.dpuf