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United States

California utility could still tap wind

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The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is quietly working behind the scenes on a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for more renewables capacity, to come on line starting in 1998. The success of its green marketing programme is such, however, that customer demand for electricity from a renewable resource could well have outstripped supply before that date.

SMUD reports that it is "right on target" with its green marketing programme which gives consumers the chance to elect one of three options for buying electricity from renewable sources at a premium price. So far, the utility plans to meet demand for non solar renewables power from 3 MW of geothermal power it is buying from Northern California Power Agency.

But it is also set to issue an RFP for more renewables. According to SMUD's Bob Wichert, if 3000 customers sign up for the green power programme by the end of the year -- the utility's official goal -- the 3 MW of "new" renewables from geothermal would all be spoken for.

"We are trying to match customer demand to the development of new renewable resources," says Wichert. SMUD's definition of "new," he added, could include "tethered wind projects that are released from current utility power purchase contracts or perhaps refurbished wind projects." Output from these projects would be considered "new" if they resulted in "incremental resource additions to the Western grid" leading to the "shutting down of some fossil fuel generation."

Wichert says that ideally he would like to see a mix of renewables. A poll conducted by SMUD earlier this year showed that the three most popular renewables were solar, hydro and wind. SMUD is looking for up to 10 MW of renewable resources, he says.

Within the first month of its green programme, SMUD gathered 791 commitments from customers who may choose to receive 100% or 50% renewables -- at a premium per kilowatt hour of one cent and half a cent respectively -- or subscribe to a community solar programme, also funded through a one cent premium. Under this programme a photovoltaic panel is installed on the customer's roof and supplies power directly to the household.

The most popular of the three options was the all renewables choice, selected by 424 customers, followed by the 50% choice, picked by 189. Solar drew 178 participants. Several customers chose both the all-renewable and community solar options, so the actual number of participants is 693.

SMUD's goal for the first month was 750 commitments and it is planning for 8000 green customers next year, roughly the number needed to consume electricity from an 8 MW landfill gas project proposed by the County of Sacramento. Negotiations over construction of this facility, however, bogged down after SMUD linked development of the project to a demand for the county to sign a long term power purchase commitment. Even if the project were to move forward, it would not start generating green kilowatts until 1999.

For now, SMUD's "Greenergy" programme is restricted to its own customers, but it may explore markets served by other municipal utilities this year. In 1998, Wichert notes, SMUD would even consider pitching its green resources to customers of Pacific Gas & Electric and similar investor owned utilities.

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