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United States

Green power program fails

In Oregon, the city of Portland has pulled out of a contract with Portland General Electric (PGE) for 10 MW of green power -- 5% of which was to be wind -- because the utility failed to provide any renewable resources. The contract was two-and-a-half years old.

Instead, the city is asking PGE to invest the $240,000 it had set aside for the program into a fuel cell project, says Susan Anderson of the Portland Energy Office. The PGE-Portland contract made provision for Portland to ask for a refund of its money, plus interest, if the cash was not used to buy renewable energy or to build new renewable plants within five years, Anderson adds. The city did not want to wait any longer. "We had a good contract, but they didn't buy anything. They were stalling and it was unlikely anything would happen," she says. "We wanted to invest directly in a renewables project. We knew we were likely to get there sooner this way."

From PGE, Gail Baker says the city of Portland is the only customer to have signed up for the "renewable resource rider." The scheme, however, was only offered to customers with large loads (Windpower Monthly, November 1996). Bill McNamee, an economist with the Oregon Public Utility Commission, says the PGE program called for customers to pay $0.01/kWh more for renewable energy. "If there wasn't a big response to this tariff, it would seem to indicate that although people say they prefer renewables, there's still a question about whether they will pay extra," he comments.

The American Wind Energy Association's Randy Swisher comments that such programs are generally more effective if the utility works with the environmental community. "I think there is a market among business customers for renewable electricity. But it has to be marketed in such a way that they are able to identify the purchase with good environmental business," he says.

Portland's money will go into a 200 kW hydrogen fuel cell. Usually, the hydrogen fuel comes from natural gas, but in this case, the city is producing hydrogen by burning methane produced at a waste water treatment plant, says Dave Tooze, energy program manager for the Portland Energy Office.

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