Why transportation is the key to reducing Seattle’s GHG emissions


Within the City of Seattle, our biggest GHG emissions problem is transportation. In 2010 the single largest source of GHG emissions in Washington State was onroad gasoline and diesel consumption for transportation. Within the City of Seattle, transportation is the even more of a GHG emission culprit. Say what you will about hydropower, and indeed, there are many issues to solve with ecological integration with hydropower. But Seattle City Light’s hydropower is far less greenhouse gas emitting than any fossil fuel power source, especially our motor vehicles.

The largest sources of GHG emissions for hydropower are the construction of the facilities, and biomass decomposition at reservoir flooding. Both of these issues are now history in the case of Seattle City Light’s hydropower fuel mix. So hydropower for Seattle City Light is likely at the low end of the 0.5 – 152 GHG emissions rates scale.

Seattle City Light’s fuel mix is 88.90% hydro, 3.4% wind, and 4.5% nuclear: 96.8% of the City of Seattle’s power non-GHG-emitting during operation. None of these sources are perfect, but they simply do not have the GHG emissions issues from operations that other fuel sources have.

Of the 96.1 MMtCO2e of GHG emitted in Washington State in 2010, 42.2 MMtCO2e were emitted from transportation, and 29.9 MMtCO2e from onroad gasoline and diesel. 20.7 MMtCO2e of GHG were emitted from comsumption-based coal, 15.6 MMtCO2e comsumption-based natural gas, and 8.4 MMtCO2e comsumption-based oil (usually heating oil). Source: (Washington State Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory 2009-2010).

The residents of the City of Seattle likely use natural gas for stoves and fireplaces, but we are far less likely to use heating oil or any coal that isn’t provided by the Bonneville Power Administration.

Discounting most of Washington State’s fossil fuels for consumer use from Seattle’s GHG emissions sources, Transportation makes up well over half of our GHG emissions. Vehicular transportation makes up well over half of that.

What can we do about that? For years I’ve been advocating for our mostly non-GHG-emitting-powered light rail to be expanded in such a way that it is a time-competitive travel option with driving (e.g. 8 minutes from Husky Stadium to Westlake Station versus 10-12 minutes driving in light traffic), and for our entire bus fleet running within the City of Seattle to be electrified.

Seattle City Light isn’t perfect, but they’re pretty close and trying to be better. We can all help by participating in their Green Up program in our homes and businesses. With our help the City of Seattle can be on its way to 100% non-GHG-emitting fuel sources.


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