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CREDIT CARD FAILS TO INSPIRE

Test marketing of a renewable energy package in the US state of Oregon, which offered a wind power credit card and billing whereby households can "round up" their monthly bills with the extra cents going to a fund for wind power (Vol 11(3):32) revealed it is not popular enough to be implemented. But this is not the fault of wind. Credit cards are already too common, says the utility testing the scheme, Portland General Electric Co. Neither are consumers familiar enough with debit cards, another part of the package. But the option of rounding up bills to benefit a wind fund was a popular concept. The utility is now considering implementing this along with green pricing.

Consumers in the state of Oregon will not be "sharing the wind" in the foreseeable future -- although it is not seen as the fault of wind power. Portland General Electric Co and US Bank, also in Portland, have now test marketed a renewable energy package offering such items as a wind power credit card and billing whereby households can "round up" their monthly bills, paying a few pennies into a fund for wind power instead of tossing them into a "penny jar" (Windpower Monthly, March 1995).

But the idea, tested this spring, is not popular enough to be implemented. A leading PGE official blames not wind but a market that is already too crowded with credit cards. Indeed the "rounding up" for monthly bills might eventually be introduced along with the concept of green pricing, he says.

Under the innovative marketing programme, customers in a test sample were offered a wind credit card, debit card and moneybuilder "certificate of deposit" savings account. But so few people signed up, the idea has been shelved, says Richard Weijo, PGE's product development director. Response to the bank package was surprisingly "uninspiring," he says. PGE believes that credit cards are already too common. "A niche market is probably interested, but it's a very competitive market," he says. Consumers are not familiar enough with debit cards and would need to be educated before one for wind power could be introduced, but the job of educating the public is for banks not utilities. Least response of all was for the savings certificate.

The "penny jar" option was a popular concept, drawing approximately a 4% response rate, higher than the 2-3% response rate common for direct marketing programmes. But Weijo says the costs of setting up a billing system to accommodate the idea prohibits introducing it alone. The utility is now considering green pricing, and might proceed with the penny jar for wind in tandem if that method of pricing is introduced. But at soonest it would not be for 12 to 18 months, he says. A wind farm is to be built in the Pacific Northwest, in PGE territory, in the Columbia Hills near Goldendale in Washington state using Kenetech turbines.

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