Utility hedges bets on Kyoto with credits

The City of Calgary Electric system, now renamed ENMAX, is investing in a block of three million kWh of tradable renewable energy credits from a project being developed by Vision Quest Windelectric Inc. The energy will stem from two Vestas wind turbines in southern Alberta.

A Canadian utility is among the first customers to have signed up for tradeable renewable energy credits being hawked last month from a sales both in a tent at the site of a new wind project being developed by Vision Quest Windelectric Inc of Calgary. The utility, the City of Calgary Electric system, now renamed ENMAX, is investing in a sizeable block of credits stemming from two Vestas 600 kW wind turbines at Pincher Creek in southern Alberta, which were expected to start generating this month.

"I think we've surprised a lot of people by just coming down here and selling green energy off the back of a truck," says Vison Quest's Jason Edworthy. Lots of individual customers have already been attracted by the company's grassroots marketing effort, he adds.

ENMAX is the most notable client to date, signing up to buy more than three million kilowatt hours of greenhouse gas emission reduction credits a year. On a smaller scale, the district of Pincher Creek has also bought an annual 24,000 kWh of credits.

"Green energy is a new, premium, value added product," Edworthy says. "We are not directly selling physical energy to these people. What they are really getting is emissions offsets, which is a new product."

The emission reduction credits, certified by Environment Canada under its Environmental Choice programme, are being traded through the Power Pool of Alberta, where the wind energy is to be sold. "The physical product goes through the power pool, and you do a contract outside the power pool with the customer, who gets the benefit," explains Edworthy. Instead of green electricity, customers get a certificate attesting to the avoided emissions.

The attraction of the credits is that they allow customers to hedge against future risk, where binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions could require all electricity consumers to buy a portion of their power needs from a renewable source, or buy a corresponding amount of green credits. Early purchasers of green credits will be able to trade them through the pool, probably at a profit.

Today, customers sign a "contract for differences" with Vision Quest for emissions free electricity, offered in monthly kilowatt hour blocks of credit. For 1000 kWh, which the company says is enough to eliminate 1000 kilograms of air pollution each month, a customer pays C$68 per month. Smaller blocks are available.

The supply of certified green electricity to Alberta's power pool comes at a time when the government has been searching for the best deregulation options to allow for customer choice, while preventing abuse of the opened system. "We'll ensure that customer choice is implemented," says Stephen West, the Alberta energy minister. "By next spring, we will be ready to entrench deregulation and customer choice in legislation. We'll ensure that stranded costs are recovered."

ENMAX will soon become a wholly owned subsidiary of the city of Calgary, says the company's Dale Oglestone, allowing it to move quickly and take advantage of new power service opportunities. Through a "contract for differences," the utility will pass on to the federal government its greenhouse gas emission offset credits. These will be used to offset the pollution caused by consuming fossil fuel based electricity in buildings operated by Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada in Alberta. In this way Vision Quest will supply nearly 30% of the power demand, with the rest coming from a biomass cogeneration facility.

The utility is also "definitely" considering marketing green power to other customers, according to Oglestone. "It won't be long, though, before the customer choice legislation that the government has been promising us will come to be," Oglestone says, "and then any utility or marketer can buy power and sell power to anyone."