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Competition starts for customers - Green power costs protest

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Competition is heating up in the green marketing sector in the American Northwest, bringing protests on marketing costs. In response to a new program from utility Portland General Electric (PGE) -- in which customers can pay for shares in new wind plant development -- cross-town rival PacifiCorp has offered a cheaper, broader option to its retail customers in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Utah.

PacifiCorp's Blue Sky program allows customers to buy shares in a future wind project, where $4.75/month buys 100 kWh/month. Unlike PGE's program -- where a limit of two shares costs $5.00/month each -- customers are allowed to buy as many shares as they want, even beyond the amount of energy used monthly, with all money going to new wind turbines. PacifiCorp's Leslie Carlson says the utility is looking at several sites and talking with wind developers to make sure turbines are spinning by the end of 2001. He declines to say how many turbines will be built.

PacifiCorp now generates 41 MW of wind at Foote Creek in Wyoming, as well as 24 MW of geothermal power in Utah. It has committed to develop 50 MW more of renewables before 2005, in addition to the Blue Sky generation.

PacifiCorp also applied to the utility commission in Idaho to offer Blue Sky, but opposition over the price, from Colorado's Land and Water Fund of the Rockies (LAW Fund), stalled the program's approval in Utah. The environmental group's Eric Blank says the cost of wind is about half the premium proposed by PacifiCorp and he believes the other half is for utility marketing of the program. "Green customers doing the right thing shouldn't have to pay for that marketing," he says.

The LAW Fund markets a similar program, WindSource, for Public Service Company of Colorado customers. It costs $2.50 for blocks of 100 kWh/month. The high price of Blue Sky will drive away large institutional facilities, Blank claims.

PacifiCorp says it has signed on its first customer -- the 28-storey building that houses its headquarters, which will buy 350 shares, accounting for about 4% of the building's energy use. Added to that is a commitment made by Multnomah County, Oregon, to buy 400,000 kWh -- some of that from PacifiCorp's Blue Sky and some from PGE.

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