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Customer choice plus benefits levy

Portland General Electric in America's northwest, a wholly owned subsidiary of Enron, filed a proposal for customer choice on December 1 with Oregon regulators. The proposal, if approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, would give all customers a choice of electricity provider and also a rate cut of about $108 million, or 10% on average.x

Portland General Electric (PGE) in America's northwest, a wholly owned subsidiary of Enron, filed a proposal for customer choice on December 1 with Oregon regulators. The proposal, if approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, would give all customers a choice of electricity provider and also a rate cut of about $108 million, or 10% on average.

The Customer Choice Implementation proposal would turn PGE into a generation and transmission company. Under the filing, customers would be assessed a 3% system benefit charge -- equivalent to some $30 million revenues yearly -- to support development of renewables such as wind and also to pay for programmes for the poor. The proposal requires disclosure of fuel content, which is considered crucial for clean energy suppliers and buyers.

"It's a pretty good start," says Pete West of Renewable Northwest Project, a Portland advocacy group. "This is very positive from an environmental perspective." He says the proposal honours the terms of PGE's agreement with the region's environmental and consumer groups. In September, PGE had appeared to be reneging on the agreement (Windpower Monthly, October 1997).

Parts of the proposed programme are already being tested on 50,000 PGE customers in Sandy, St Helens, Hillsboro and Oregon City, and on large commercial and industrial users throughout the state. Under the test, customers in the four communities can choose their supplier starting as early as December 1.

Most suppliers are interest in selling only to the largest customers. Of ten service providers that had been certified to sell under the programme, only two offered to sell electricity to residential customers at all: Electric Lite Inc of South Carolina and Enron Power Marketing Inc, both of which say they offer green packages.

Of the eight others certified to supply electricity, all but two limited their offers to the "large" commercial or industrial customers. That is presumably because, starting in October, industrial and commercial users across the state were able to start buying as much as 50% of their electricity from other suppliers.

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