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Fifty thousand given option to buy wind

Public Service Co., a utility based in Denver, will start soliciting customers in Colorado to buy wind power on April 1 from the state's first wind plant.

Colorado citizens will soon be more electrified than ever by the idea of clean power. Public Service Co. (PSCo), a utility based in Denver, will start soliciting customers to buy wind power on April 1 -- and it is not an April Fool's day joke. The plan was approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on February 7.

Under the product name Windsource, customers in the Rocky Mountain state will be able to buy some or all of the power from a 10 MW project of 15-20 turbines to be built in the northeast of the state. Colorado's first wind plant, construction is scheduled to start this year and to be completed by the middle of next -- and wind power should be flowing via the regional power grid by year's end.

The project will be developed by Disgen, Distributed Generation Systems Inc, a company based in Evergreen, Colorado and headed by Dale Osborn, the former president of US Windpower.

"Windsource was developed from listening to our customers," says the utility's product developer Jeff Ackermann. "Our research shows a significant portion of our customers support the idea of renewable technologies." The premium for residential customers, who must sign a one-year agreement, will range from $2.50 to $19.50 monthly. Commercial customers are being asked to make a three year commitment.

"Colorado customers should take advantage of an opportunity to back their beliefs with dollars," stated an editorial entitled "Testing the Wind" on February 12 in the Denver Post, which has a daily circulation of about 300,000. "Customers who can afford the slightly higher energy prices should sign up for the programme. Like most products, demand drives the supply of energy from renewable sources. The more people use wind energy, the more the start-up costs of the wind farms will decline. And the more the price of wind energy falls, the more competitive it will be against existing non renewable sources.

"Increased use of wind and solar power could help clean up the infamous brown cloud," it continued. "The impact of thousands of homeowners buying into the wind energy plan could be enormousÉ. Even more potent, though, would be the participation of large scale electrical users." Denver is almost as notorious as Los Angeles for its air pollution. In the editorial, the paper even suggested the state's various governing authorities -- including the cities and counties -- should sign up for the scheme.

PSCo expects to sign up 50,000 out of its 1.1 million customers, an estimate based on market research, says the utility's Rebecca Bertolini. "We're excited that we're able to generate that support." There are 2.8 million people in Colorado and Wyoming.

The wind plan is backed by as many as ten public interest groups that will also help solicit customers. They include the well-known Sierra Club and various environmental groups based in Boulder. "The ball is in the court of PSCo's customers, says John Nielsen, an economist with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, also one of the ten groups which hopes the project will reduce greenhouse gases. Nielsen notes that for an extra $5 monthly, a customer can choose to receive nearly half of their power from wind plant -- the equivalent of not driving a car 5000 miles in terms of reduced greenhouse gases.

PSCo, which will also start marketing a home PV system, Solarsource, hopes that 5 MW of wind power will be installed by January 1998 and the remainder by the middle of the year. The wind farm site has yet to be identified publicly. The first institutional member will be the Regis University. Also expected to sign on is the rural electric co-operative that serves the upscale and well-known ski resort of Vail, the Holy Cross rural electric system.

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