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United States

Colorado takes wind into its supply portfolio

All customers of the leading Colorado utility Public Service of Colorado (PSCo) will bear the cost of a new 25 MW wind plant being built by the utility-and not just customers who choose to pay extra for electricity from a renewable energy source. Until now only customers signing up for PSCo's Windsource program-served by the 11 MW Ponnequin plant of NEG Micon turbines-contributed to the extra cost of clean power. In the future, however, power from PSCo's new 25 MW project will be included in the Colorado utility's "rate base," starting in 16 months' time.

The extra cost of clean wind means that average utility customers will start seeing an increase in their electricity bills in October 2000. The increase will be of less than a dollar yearly, estimates the Denver utility. Construction of the 25 MW project, also made up of turbines from NEG Micon of Denmark, started in late March. The turbines will be manufactured in Illinois, not far from the American headquarters of NEG Micon in Rolling Meadows. The 33 machines are being erected in Wyoming-near the recently completed 41.4 MW Foote Creek project-by SeaWest Windpower Inc through its subsidiary Venture Pacific, and M&N WindPower. M&N, jointly owned by NEG Micon and Nichimen Corp of Japan, was brought in to develop the project on a fast track so that it qualifies for the federal production tax credit before it expires on June 30. SeaWest, of San Diego, California, built the newly on-line Wyoming Wind Project of 69 Mitsubishi 600 kW units at Foote Creek.

The decision to acquire the wind capacity results from a Colorado Public Utilities Commission proceeding on PSCo's resource plan, which calls for the utility to develop 676 MW of new generation by May 1, 2000. The regulators approved PSCo's plan on condition that it includes renewable energy as a component.

Good sign

The inclusion of the wind plant's production in the rate base is being welcomed enthusiastically by the wind community. "Once the average Coloradan learns that every time they give $1 to a utility, that utility burns 14 pounds of coal producing 30 pounds of CO2 that stays in the atmosphere a century or more... well, we are going to see the market for wind power explode," says renewables advocate Randy Udall of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency in Aspen, Colorado.

Wind has gained a higher profile in the state as a result of utility programs inviting customers to pay extra for green power, especially in terms of educating people about clean energy. "When Americans get freaked about climate change, still some years away, we'll force the utilities to take all the wind that IPPs can produce. For now, though, green marketing has a role to play," adds Udall.

The reaction of Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association to the wind project being included in the rate base is straight forward: "That's the way it should be," he says. He also notes that the chairman of the state PUC, when it required that PSCo include the rate based wind in its Integrated Resource Plan, was Brent Alderson, a fierce proponent of renewables and a member of the National Wind Co-ordinating Committee.

The news of PSCo's new wind capacity comes shortly after New Century Energies, the holding company for both Public Service Co and the utility Southwestern of Amarillo, Texas, announced a merger with the Minnesota utility Northern States Power (NSP). The merger gives the utilities a powerful position in the Midwest, one of the areas with most wind potential. NSP is mandated to build over 400 MW of wind power, more than 200 MW of which is now built, in a deal allowing it to store nuclear waste.

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