Although the "Share the Wind" concept with US Bank is only a pilot programme, the three products offered are real, says Richard Weijo, PGE product development director. That means members of the target group can become the first Americans to have wind-linked bank products. He notes that the revenue to the wind fund comes from the bank not the customer.
The fourth product offered in the Share the Wind package is an invitation to utility customers to round up their residential electric bills to the nearest dollar and have the difference contributed to the wind fund. This is being tested on a random sample of 2000 homes and is not yet a real product, says Weijo, because it is quite costly for PGE to modify its billing system. A similar idea, though not involving wind, is currently being tested by another utility in California, he says.
PGE also expects eventually to offer customers more environmentally friendly choices -- including green pricing, whereby they may choose to pay more for clean power. Wind would be the first technology offered. Weijo says utilities have to create a product line, with different products to appeal to different customers. "I guess we'd start with wind as a rate option."
The "Share the Wind" idea has been previously publicised (Windpower Monthly, December 1994), but the testing is new. By March 15, the utility and bank hope to have enough feedback to gauge whether the unprecedented programme should proceed. A decision should be made by late March, says Weijo. PGE has 550,000 residential customers in the Portland-Salem area of Oregon.
Oregon, is one of the areas with greatest wind potential and investor interest. PGE and Pacific Power are together buying 31.5 MW of power from the first wind farm in the Northwest by 1996, to be operated by Kenetech Windpower of California in the Columbia Hills near Goldendale, Washington. PGE signed a contract for its 12.5 MW share in February.
Clean wind slogans
The "Share the Wind" package mailed to the target group of customers shows photographs of Kenetech's Model 33M-VS turbines. "Share the WindÉ for our children and our children's children" and "Something new from PGEÉ wind power" are two of the slogans being used. The literature also boasts that Oregon's first wind plant, near Pendleton in Umatilla County, will have 140 wind turbines on actively farmed wheat fields. The 50 MW project, to consist also of 33M-VS machines, is still under negotiation with Kenetech. Short-listed in 1993 for PGE's green plan, it will be on-line in 1998.
Specifically, the "Share the Wind" banking and billing services being offered are:
¥ Share the Wind Money-builder Certificate of Deposit account: an amount equal to 1% of opening balances would go to the fund from the bank's pocket;
¥ Share the Wind Visa Card: US Bank will contribute 1% of transferred balances and 1% of every purchase made on the card to the fund;
¥ Share the Wind Debit Card: US Bank will contribute one-half of 1% of every debit card purchase to the fund;
¥ Share the Wind Penny Jar: This automatically rounds up the customer's monthly bills to the nearest dollar, with extra pennies going directly to the fund.
"Share the Wind demonstrates PGE's commitment to developing renewable energy resources," says Weijo. "The programme introduces low cost, convenient ways for customers to show their interest in wind power. If these programmes are successful, PGE will continue to look for other products to help support wind power." US Bank's Rick Comandich, senior vice president, is equally enthusiastic. "We are very excited to be participating in this innovative project," he says. "Share the Wind is the first time a financial institution has offered a group of competitively priced products that provide customers with the opportunity to support and invest in an alternative energy source."
PGE and US Bank are trying to sell the banking services by saying wind is clean, renewable and natural. The utility's concentration on wind for its green image was developed by market research company Brand New of Portland. PGE had wanted to look green and to create an affinity with environmentally conscious customers, especially after years of controversy leading to a decision to mothball the Trojan nuclear plant. The utility had already done research indicating many customers were concerned environmentally; it was a question of how to proceed beyond that. "It was very clear. The customers wanted the utility to do an excellent job on whatever renewable they chose -- they wanted specificity," says Michael Perman of Brand New. Customers did not seem to want the utility, he said, spreading itself too thin. Wind was not tested versus other renewables, such as solar. PGE already thought wind most economical. Comments from younger people in the test samples got Brand New thinking about energy bonds, he says. And when the idea was then tested on focus groups, the reaction proved highly favourable. The Share the Wind ideas involve choice, a vital concept for a utility that has seemed too unresponsive to ratepayers.