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Demand for green power surges

Green retail electricity has taken several major steps forward in California in recent weeks, a consequence of the severe drought which has affected much of the US. Local governments-from cities to small municipalities-are choosing to go green at a dramatic rate as the state's green market continues to grow. Green Mountain Energy, a leading retailer of renewable power, signed up the first major commercial customer in California for its revamped wind product, a ceremony that even US Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson attended. It has also finished installing the first new wind turbines in California built specifically because of demand for green energy-three NEG Micon units now turning in the San Gorgonio Pass.

The 2.1 MW wind project-developed by SeaWest and owned by PacifiCorp of Portland, Oregon-will provide power for Green Mountain customers. PacifiCorp is Green Mountain's wholesale supplier in California of renewables. This summer Green Mountain reported its busiest month since California deregulated 16 months ago. "We are greatly encouraged by the speed with which green power is catching on," says the supplier's Rick Counihan.

Richardson enthused

The retailer's first large commercial customer for its revamped "Wind for the Future 2.0" blend of electricity is Birkenstock Footprint Sandals. At the San Francisco ceremony on July 19, Richardon said: "The new partnership between Birkenstock and Green Mountain Energy is just another example of how electricity competition encouraged a choice to those looking for an alternative clean and efficient energy source." He added that the announcement demonstrates the many possibilities when a company and a utility "find common ground in the movement to restore a balance between the needs of humanity and the needs of the environment."

Also more busy than ever before is Commonwealth Energy, of Tustin, south of Los Angeles. "Each week we set new records for the number of customers who switch to our 100% renewable power," says Jay Goth of Commonwealth, which is selling green electricity to 1500 homes in and near San Diego alone. Meanwhile another green supplier in California, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, has announced so much consumer demand that it will buy the output from a new renewable facility to be on-line in September.

Indeed, even the world famous Golden Gate Bridge will soon be lit with renewable power now that a group representing 59 local governments has agreed to buy renewable. The Association of Bay Area Governments will buy geothermal power for its own use-not for resale to private customers-from Calpine Corp of San Jose. The decision is part of a strong trend whereby government agencies at all levels-from local to national-are starting to voice the environmental concerns of the public.

Several weeks earlier, 60 local governments near San Diego County negotiated a cheaper rate for green electricity from Commonwealth. The power, 100% geothermal, costs less than the standard brown power offered by local utility San Diego Gas & Electric, in part because of the $0.015/kWh rebate given under state restructuring laws for consumption of renewables. The California rebate is only for three years but is intended to give the green retail market momentum to succeed.

Furthermore, Santa Monica, an upmarket coastal suburb of Los Angeles, has become the first city in California to green its facilities, switching to power from 5 MW of capacity, also from Commonwealth. The switchover was covered heavily by the broadcast and print media in Los Angeles, the country's second largest city and where the local municipal utility Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is expected to start buying wind power soon.

California continues to lead the green power trend and most of the well over 100 cities, water districts, school districts and other local government agencies to have signed up for green electricity come from the state. An estimated 200,000 customers in California-homes and businesses-are now buying green electricity. Green power providers report that in the last few weeks or months, requests to change to green power are accelerating, because of education, advertising campaigns and the recent attention given to wind power by the Clinton Administration.

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