Historical Company Towns Get Energy Efficiency Upgrade

Seattle City Light’s Skagit Historic Housing District will become a testing ground for merging historic preservation, energy efficiency, and enhanced living conditions.

Seattle City Light’s Skagit Historic Housing District will become a testing ground for merging historic preservation, energy efficiency, and enhanced living conditions.

Superintendent Jorge Carrasco announced today the start of a renovation project in the historic residential neighborhoods that will install energy efficient heat pumps, lighting and water heaters, along with additional insulation and other energy-saving measures.

“A lot has changed since the 1920s when Seattle City Light started building the homes in Newhalem and Diablo for employees working at our Skagit Hydroelectric Project,” Carrasco said. “Our challenge is to improve their energy efficiency, accommodate modern living, and enhance their comfort while still preserving their historic character.”

“Once these renovations are complete, Newhalem and Diablo will become a living laboratory where City Light will be able to measure the effectiveness of different energy efficiency technologies and changes in how the residents use their electricity,” Carrasco said. “The lessons we learn here will help the utility further its own energy conservation and boost efforts to help our customers reduce their electricity consumption as well.”

Located along U.S. 20 on the Skagit River at the edge of the North Cascades National Park, Newhalem and Diablo are among the very few, if not the only, municipally-owned company towns left in the United States. The Skagit Historic Housing District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings have been lived in almost continually since their construction in the 1920s and 30s.

Fife-based Centennial Contractors Enterprises is scheduled to begin construction March 31 on the first six homes. Work also includes a machine shop, a sandblasting shop and another commercial building.

When the project is finished during the next several years, 34 homes and up to 24 commercial buildings, including the three powerhouses at the dams, will be updated. Those improvements are expected to save 2.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That’s enough to power 277 average Seattle homes for a year, or all 57 Newhalem and Diablo homes for about two years.

“For more than 30 years, Seattle City Light has been a national leader in promoting energy conservation,” Carrasco said. “This project demonstrates the utility’s commitment to walking its talk with its own energy use.”

Seattle City Light is the ninth largest public electric utility in the United States.  It has 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.