How Duluth is Helping Power Seattle
Allete is supplying energy to Seattle City Light through its 50-megawatt Condon wind site in northern Oregon. Photo courtesy of Allete

How Duluth is Helping Power Seattle

Duluth-based Allete Clean Energy scores its first municipal-utility customer—nearly 1,700 miles away.

How did a Duluth-based company become a supplier of energy to the city of Seattle?

For the past several months, Allete Clean Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Duluth-based energy company Allete Inc., has been providing wind-powered electricity to Seattle City Light. With more than 493,000 customers, Seattle City Light is one of the top-ten largest municipal utilities in the U.S.

Nicole Johnson, president of Allete Clean Energy
Nicole Johnson, president of Allete Clean Energy

It’s a new type of customer for Allete Clean Energy, which Allete launched in 2011. The renewable energy subsidiary owns, operates, and has developed wind projects totaling more than 1,500 megawatts of wind capacity across eight states. Nicole Johnson, president of Allete Clean Energy, says that her enterprise’s mission is “helping customers achieve their sustainability goals.” In 2022, the subsidiary provided about 8.6% of Allete’s consolidated earnings.

Until the recent power purchase agreement with Seattle City Light, Allete Clean Energy’s customer base comprised large electric utilities and several Fortune 500 companies. One of its more recent wind energy developments is the 91-megawatt Red Barn site in southwestern Wisconsin, which it sold early this year to Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison Gas and Electric.

Allete Clean Energy’s connection with Seattle City Light is the 50-megawatt Condon wind site in northern Oregon, which the Duluth company acquired in 2014. Four years later, it refurbished the facility, updating technology and structure to make it operate more efficiently and reliability.

Until last year, Condon had been supplying wind power to the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA), an Oregon-based federal agency that markets Columbia River-generated hydropower. In 2022, BPA chose not to renew the contract. According to Kris Spenningsby, Allete Clean Energy’s director of customer solutions and asset optimization, BPA let the contract lapse because “it has a longer-term plan that involves more optimization of its existing hydroelectric facilities.”

With the expiration of the BPA agreement, “we sought out other customers in the area that were looking for renewable energy and had the ability to bring in additional energy resources into their power supply portfolio,” Spenningsby says. Seattle City Light “was really looking to diversify their energy portfolio,” he adds. “They have a very hydroelectric-based energy supply, and wind was fairly complementary to that supply.” The source of Seattle City Light’s hydroelectric power is the Columbia River, which “has a lot of generation in the spring, with the runoff,” Spenningsby adds. “But it lags the rest of the year.”

Talks between Seattle City Light and Allete Clean Energy began last summer. The Duluth company began selling wind-driven electricity to Seattle City Light on a month-to-month basis several months before a five-year power purchase agreement went online on June 1.

Seattle City Light is using all of Condon’s 50-megawatt production. The agreement between Seattle City Light and Allete Clean Energy also includes the possibility of providing more renewables to the municipal utility, perhaps by adding solar to the mix. “Tapping into this customer segment is important,” Johnson says. “And I think it shows interest across all customer classes of wanting to advance sustainability and making a difference in our world.”