The Northwest Clean Air Agency has awarded nearly $3.2 million to three projects that will reduce greenhouse gases - from improving energy efficiency in homes and dairy farms to constructing a small hydroelectric plant on the Bellingham waterfront.
The money for the projects will come from BP Cherry Point Refinery to help offset the additional carbon dioxide that will be released from its new reactor, which will produce ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel beginning later this year.
BP is required to produce the fuel, which will help reduce sulfur emissions that cause acid rain as well as harmful particulates and ozone precursors. Still, the new unit is expected to release about 440,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, a year.
The refinery is voluntarily paying for the projects, which form the biggest chunk of the $4.3 million it committed to help offset the impact of its ultra-low-sulfur diesel production.
"They came to us saying, 'We know this is going to happen. We know we'd like to do something to offset it,' " said Katie Skipper, spokeswoman for the Northwest Clean Air Agency.
Of the remaining money, $500,000 will go to smaller projects, and the rest to cover the cost of administering the program, communication and public education, according to Skipper.
In this round of awards for larger projects, the Northwest Clean Air Agency focused on efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and organizations that have a track record with such efforts in the region.
"It was important for us to keep the projects local. We could have planted trees in another country to offset the carbon dioxide," Skipper said of approaches to a global problem, "but we wanted to keep the projects local."
The projects, which were selected from 15 proposals, are:
$2 million to the Opportunity Council, which will use the money to expand its Community Energy Challenge program in Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
"We're excited to be a recipient of those funds," said Shawn Collins, manager of Community Energy Challenge.
The program works to reduce the amount of electricity and natural gas used by households and small businesses by making energy-efficiency efforts easier from beginning to end, and affordable. Such efforts are expected to reduce greenhouse gases by about 2,747 metric tons a year.
$760,000 to the city of Bellingham, which plans to build a 1.6-megawatt hydroelectric plant on the waterfront using water from an existing supply line, which once delivered up to 50 million gallons of water per day to the former Georgia-Pacific West plant.
The city's plant is expected to generate enough electricity to power 1,200 homes on average.
The proposed plant would be at 1200 Bay St. and could cost $1.9 million, according to Sam Shipp, the project engineer with the city's Public Works Department.
The city will have a better idea of the actual cost once the project goes through the design process, he added.
Construction could start at the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.
"We might use it ourselves, we might sell it back to the local utility, Puget Sound Energy," Shipp said, adding that the short-term plan was to sell the electricity to PSE.
The plant is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,881 metric tons a year.
City officials also said it would reduce flooding and erosion and improve fish habitat on Whatcom Creek; reduce sediment flowing through Bellingham's water treatment plant; and generate revenue for other energy conservation projects.
$439,500 to the Washington State University Energy Program, which will focus its efforts on dairy farms in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
The money will be used to provide energy assessments at 25 dairy farms, train conservation district staff, and buy down the cost for energy-efficiency upgrades at the Darigold plant in Lynden, which processes milk into powder.
"Our assessment is really quite comprehensive," said Jim Jensen, senior bioenergy and alternative fuels specialist with the WSU Energy Program, of the energy audit done on farms. "We don't just look at electricity. We look at everything."
Called "greening the food chain," the program also will provide cash incentives to area farms or food delivery companies to convert two or three vehicles to run on clean-burning biomethane produced from cow manure by Vander Haak dairy in Lynden.
The WSU project is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 2,000 metric tons a year.
In total, the projects don't offer a one-to-one offset for carbon emissions, which wasn't the goal, according to the Northwest Clean Air Agency. They were selected for also providing a number of broader community benefits, including jobs.
Additional information on the Northwest Clean Air Agency is at nwcleanair.org.
Find the Opportunity Council's Community Energy Challenge at communityenergychallenge.org.
More on the Washington State University Energy Program is at energy.wsu.edu.