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United States

Demand stimulated by teamwork

In America's Northwest, the Renewables Northwest Project (RNP) is spearheading a regional effort to encourage utilities to back renewable energy initiatives and to increase the market share of electricity users demanding green power. In Oregon, RNP says offering customers a renewables product will give utilities an advantage in the niche green market when the industry is partially deregulated in 2001.

RNP's efforts, unofficially dubbed "Go Green," began in Oregon during January and will work towards a full-scale kick-off in April, just in time for Earth Day. Of the two Oregon utilities, Portland General Electric has already introduced its green program, while PacifiCorp/Scottish Power is expected to launch its version on Earth Day. In addition to marketing green power to customers, each utility buys or has developed wind generating resources.

"We've worked with these utilities to encourage them to buy renewables on behalf of their customers or to offer all their customers some kind of renewable product," says RNP's Rachel Shimshack. "Some are doing both." RNP is now helping to market the green power. As the utilities focus their efforts to get customers into the program with mass-marketing, such as bill inserts and advertising, RNP will market directly to commercial and industrial customers. Diane Zipper, RNP's Go Green co-ordinator, believes this will help the utilities retain customers in the future.

"PacifiCorp and PGE are securing a niche in the market that anticipates the way the market will operate once the state deregulates," she says. "The utilities will get a jump on that market with the Go Green initiative, thus securing some customers ahead of the 2001 date."

Oregon will only partially deregulate. In 2001, industrial and large commercial customers in the state will be free to go elsewhere than their local utility, but residential customers and small commercial ratepayers will remain on the utility grid. They will, however, be offered a portfolio of options that includes a market rate, a regulated rate and the green power option.

The right market

Zipper says Oregon is the right market for a green power product. "Clean air and clean water rank very high in the minds of Oregonians," she says, citing a recent survey by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. The survey shows that customers want their utilities to offer renewable energy.

PGE supports RNP's efforts to bring more customers into its Clean Wind or Salmon-Friendly Power programs, but it doesn't support the group financially at this time nor do PGE and RNP have a formal marketing agreement. But they can run complementary marketing programs, according to PGE.

"Our focus is to mass market to thousands of people, while the environmental groups can market through their constituent groups," says Rick Weijo, PGE program manager for retail services. "They also have the ability to influence the environmental policies of large corporations, which is another way they can access and influence those customers."

PGE is further ahead with its marketing program than is PacifiCorp, which was due to file a program tariff with Oregon regulators on January 28. Renewables Northwest worked with the utility to develop the tariff and PacifiCorp says it is open to working with the group in marketing the program. However, according to PacifiCorp's Dave Kvamme, the program's details are still sketchy. He says the product will be something like PGE's with a portion of the proceeds going to build new wind turbines, probably at the existing Foote Creek wind farm in Wyoming, which it owns with two other power utilities.

No monetary incentives

"Doing something good for the community," and getting good press will have to drive companies' decisions, says Zipper. There are really no monetary incentives in Oregon. In deregulated states with high electricity prices, customers are sometimes able to buy electricity that includes a mix of renewables and still get a lower price, she says. But Oregon has some of the lowest electricity prices in the country. Customers will have to pay a premium.

RNP's plan is to first target businesses known to have green credentials, such as participants in programs like Natural Step and Oregon's chapter of Businesses for Social Responsibility. Natural Step works with businesses, such as Nike and PGE, to help them become more ecologically-responsible. In addition, Renewables Northwest will approach large religious groups, such as Ecumenical Ministries. "The Oregon Catholic and Protestant communities are saying that we need to take better care of our environment," Zipper says.

Much of RNP's marketing inspiration comes from Colorado and Pennsylvania initiatives. "WindSource" is marketed in Colorado by the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, which works directly with Public Service Company of Colorado customers, much as RNP will initially work with PGE and PacifiCorp customers in Oregon. Today, Colorado has 50 MW of wind generation and half of that is due to consumer demand created by the Land and Water Fund.

Shooting for 100

With strong support from Oregon utilities, RNP is shooting to sign up a modest 35 commercial customers in the first year and 100 total by the end of two years. It plans to make marketing forays into Washington and Montana, as well, and some day in Idaho, which Zipper says is less progressive and slower to adopt renewable initiatives.

"Overall, our goal is to create enough movement in the region to bring the price of renewables down to the cost of fossil fuels," she adds. "At that point, we wouldn't need to charge a premium, but that's at least five years away."

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