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Going like pricey hot cakes

California customers are switching electricity suppliers faster than ever. More customers switched in August and July than at anytime since the move to a competitive market was started in April 1998, reports the California Energy Commission (CEC). At the same time, the wholesale price of green power is rising along with demand. Last month, California's Automated Power Exchange (APX) reported that the monthly average premium for the first five months of trading green power, including wind energy, rose from $0.0037/kWh in May to $0.005/kWh in September, an increase of exactly one-third.

Nearly 16,000 homes chose a new supplier in August, up from what had already been a record month of 12,300 switches in July, says the CEC. Earlier this year, the rate of switching was about one-third as high. Overall, an estimated 1.7% of California consumers have now switched supplier. The Centre for Resource Solutions, which manages the voluntary "Green-e" certification of green power, says that most residential customers who change supplier are doing so to choose green power.

Meantime, the rising price of green power is not only because more people covet clean energy. Some of the increase is simply because demand is highest in the hottest months. But the APX, which lets energy companies and brokers use the Internet to trade "bulk" electricity for resale, says that green trade is getting better in several ways.

"We're scheduling over 700 MW per hour of green power" to the California Independent System Operator (ISO) at a premium of $4 a megawatt-hour, says the exchange's Jan Pepper to the Dow Jones news service. "The volumes we're handling have grown substantially." Since the green market opened in May, the APX has handled 175,000 MWh of clean energy. The premiums represent how much extra buyers are willing to pay for it.

The success of the green market is such that the APX was due to open its "APX Year 2000 Green Ticket Market" last month so that generators and buyers can start to lock in prices for next year. The California exchange is to open further exchanges and green power markets in both New York and Illinois before the end of the year. It already operates a market in Ohio.

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