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Slippery salmon

When the Mitsubishi turbines in the 42 MW Wyoming Wind Project near Cheyenne begin supplying commercial power to the grid this month, Salem Electric of Oregon will buy 15% of its electricity needs from the wind farm. The utility's next step is to ask customers if they want to pay extra for that electricity to fund salmon restoration projects.

The Salem Electric board will decide December 15 whether to launch its salmon-friendly program. For now, the cost of the wind power is included in the electricity rates and all customers pay for it. Under the salmon restoration proposal, customers would choose to pay more -- for the same power -- to improve salmon habitat.

"It's a way to provide extra money for salmon," says Bill Bradbury, executive director of "For The Sake of The Salmon," the group that proposed the idea to Salem Electric (Windpower Monthly, November 1998). Under Bradbury's program, utilities buy power designated salmon-friendly -- and consumers receive discounts from goods-retailers that are designed to offset the extra cost of that power. A portion of the premium is used to help restore dwindling salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest.

Customers who participate would pay an extra $5 a month for the first 500 kWh, says Bradbury. Their purchase would be offset by coupons from a yet-to-be chosen merchandiser. If Salem Electric votes yes, it will become the first utility in the Northwest to participate in the For The Sake of the Salmon program, adds Bradbury.

Salem Electric will acquire the wind power through an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which bought 15 MW of the 41.4 MW output. The sale to Salem Electric brought in enough revenues to prompt the BPA to buy additional wind power from three turbines that will be added to the project.

Deals like these allow BPA to invest returns in new renewable resources, says Judi Johansen, BPA administrator. "We'll continue to look for inventive ways to back renewable energy." The wind projects owners are PacifiCorp and Eugene Water & Electric.

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