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Texas leads for cheap green power

Austin Energy, a Texas municipal utility, offers the most affordable green pricing program in the US, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report. It finds that 85 utilities in 29 states have some type of green pricing program, which combined have resulted in 282 MW of renewable energy development.

All programs support additional renewable production, but the most successful tie the program directly to investments in new renewables. "Customers want to know that the dollars they are contributing result in additional and meaningful renewable energy development," the report says.

Austin's Green Choice makes that tie clear. Customers opt to pay a fuel charge on every kWh they use or a green charge. The fuel charge flexes with the market price of fuels, such as natural gas, while the green charge is a flat rate, based on long-term contracts the utility has with its renewables suppliers. In November, the fuel charge was $0.0268, while the green charge was a flat $0.0285, so Green Choice customers paid an amazingly low $0.17 premium for each 100 kWh -- the difference between the fuel charge and green charge. The next best in the country, according to NREL, are Roseville Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Texas New Mexico Power Co, all at $1 for 100 kWh. The tenth best is El Paso Electric at $1.92 for 100 kWh.

"It's a hedge against inflation in fuel costs," says Austin Energy's Mark Kapner says. "Customers can hedge against the risk of fuel prices going up." Green Choice had a 10% monthly growth rate in 2001 and the utility was buying 23.2 MW of renewable energy, consisting of methane gas, wind and solar, to meet the demand. The total purchases, up from 13 MW in 1999, were second in the nation behind the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP).

Austin Energy is also sixth on NREL's list for the number of customer participants, with 8680. At the top is LADWP with 80,000, followed by Public Service of Colorado (Xcel) with 14,100. Austin Energy is also tenth on the list for participation, with 2.5% of customers buying green. For the second year in a row, Moorhead Public Service in Minnesota leads that list with a rate of 7.4%, followed by LADWP at 6.2% and Holy Cross Energy in Colorado at 4.1%.

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