United States

United States

Substantial impact on development -- Green power programs

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Utility green power pricing programs and the competitive wholesale green power market are pushing a significant proportion of wind development in the US. Of the nation's 17,362 MW of installed renewable resource capacity, 980 MW has been developed under a program in which customers pay a premium for clean energy, says a recent report by the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In addition, more than 430 MW is under construction or in the late planning stages because customers have opted to pay more for green power.

Wind turbines account for 93% of the 980 MW developed so far. That is significant, says NREL's Blair Swezey. Yet, he sees green pricing programs more as a precursor to other initiatives. "The green programs are important, but it's clearly things like portfolio standards that are the drivers," Swezey says. "However, in other regions and states without an RPS, the whole green marketing industry is serving an important impetus for getting renewables built."

Swezey says that green programs now being offered by more than 300 utilities and serving about 400,000 electricity users are proving that customers are willing to pay a little more to get green electricity. Austin Energy's GreenChoice program in Texas, with 251.5 million kWh in renewable energy sales, heads NREL's top ten list in total sales. Also on that list are the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California, Xcel Energy in Colorado and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

participation rate

LADWP, which recently announced it will build a 120 MW wind project in the Mojave Desert, but has no wind power at this time, gets top honours for number of participants with 72,732 customers. LADWP also has a 5.2% participation rate, third on a list topped by Moorhead Public Service in Minnesota, which has signed up 5.8% of its customers. Orcas Power & Light, a public utility stranded on a group of islands in western Washington, was second in participation, with 5.5%.

An important benefit of green programs, Swezey says, is that they give utilities the experience they need to integrate wind generation into their systems. They also prove the real cost to consumers is only pennies a month -- and it is only a small step from that realisation to supporting renewable energy at the policy level, he says.

By far the largest portion of renewables development driven by the green market comes from projects designed specifically to sell wholesale energy directly to utilities for use in their individual programs. Of the 980 MW total, 695 MW is for this use and 99% of that is wind. About 400 MW is located in the Northwest, where there are no state mandated renewable energy programs. That includes the output of FPL Energy's 300 MW Stateline wind farm, which is marketed by PPM Energy.

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