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United States

Not much sign of renewables yet

The lights did not go out in Los Angeles, nor did purveyors of green power become millionaires overnight when California's electricity market set out on the road to open competition on March 31. Indeed, by all accounts the electricity marketing system -- the largest anywhere open to all consumers -- did start working, and almost as intended.

At 0500 hours on March 31, the day-ahead buying and selling of electricity was launched by the non-profit PX, or Power Exchange. By midnight the overseers at the Independent System Operator (ISO) had taken control of the utility owned high voltage transmission lines, with the intention of sending electricity to the state's millions of customers at something akin to market rate.

The volume of the first day's trading -- 511 million kWh at a price averaging $0.0197 per unit -- was no April Fool's Day joke. Prices rose as high as $0.0244 mid-morning. Still, prior to the start only a tiny proportion of ordinary consumers had told their utilities they want to change their provider -- less than 40,000 of the nearly ten million eligible customers.

Enron Corp has already reacted to this tardiness. Its announcement on Earth Day that it is temporarily curbing power sales to residential customers in California and elsewhere came as a major blow. As a huge independent energy company, Enron had been expected to lead the way on a competitive market. The company says the decision, which may be reversed as early as next year, was because of the lack of customer interest and confusion over California's deregulation. It had signed up only 30,000 homes despite spending $10 million on marketing and advertising in the state.

It is unclear what this means for Enron's planned 39 MW of wind capacity in Palm Springs, announced with a fanfare and intended to provide power for its green Earth Smart customers. (Windpower Monthly, December 1998). Officials at Enron's head office in Houston and at its wind division in Tehachapi were unresponsive late last month.

How green power fares is being watched by those who advocate renewables across America and in Europe. Just before the launch, PG&E Energy Services, the retail division of utility PG&E Corp, announced it will offer green electricity in a package named Clean Choice. The mixes of renewables, from wind to small hydro, are available at levels of 50% and 100% of a customer's total needs.

Astonishingly, as of March 31 just three companies were registered as selling what the state has designated as the most desirable green power -- that generated within California. This despite a high level of consumer interest in the product. Electricity from registered "renewable energy providers" is eligible for a new consumer credit of up to $0.015/kWh (previous story). The three providers are: PGE Energy Services; "cleen'n green," which offers two products, green 50 and green 100, and Utilysis Corporation, which is also selling two products, Earthchoice 50 and Earthchoice 100.

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