Beating California price horrors -- Green power for stability

Two green power retailers are now offering California consumers electricity at a flat rate to counteract the ongoing price turbulence in the deregulated power market. Even though the state government has now capped spiralling electricity prices to protect consumers, both the retailers say their offering of clean power at a fixed price is boosting business. The attraction of renewables is that they are not affected by external fuel price shocks.

Tenderland Corp, of Truckee in northern California, is offering the first 80,000 customers who sign up after October 1 its 100% green electricity for $0.08/kWh for the next year. Some 5-10% of the power is from wind plant. Following Tenderland's lead, on November 13, Green Mountain Energy Company of Austin, Texas, announced a flat-rate program for customers -- both homes and small businesses -- in San Diego and nearby Orange County. Under "The Breathe Easy Payment Plan," both new and existing customers of its "Solar for the Future" plan are assured electricity for $0.085/kWh until the end of next year.

Hard to refuse

It was an offer many found hard to refuse. Green Mountain has signed up three times as many customers under the new program as it had previously, says the company's Karen Woodbury. The power marketer would like to expand the program to northern California and to customers of its wind products.

Tenderland's offer, which customers need not sign up to for any minimum length of time, also includes the chance to "Adopt a Wind Turbine" in a planned new project -- of up to 40 MW -- near Palm Springs. Customers will have their name placed on a turbine and will be able to monitor the wind farm's development -- and their turbine's birth -- and then the real-time operation via Tenderland's web site.

The offer, although technically available throughout California, is only being marketed to customers in the San Diego area. They saw a summer of skyrocketing electricity prices, driven up by the heat and power deficits as the needs of California's growing economy -- now the world's sixth largest -- outstripped supply. The company had not met the 80,000 benchmark as of late November. But it says it is pleased with the response. "It's been great," says power marketer and trader Steve Jones. The flat-rate will be offered yearly, with the price set at the start of each year.

New wind farm

Tenderland, which owns San Gorgonio Pass land-owner Mark Technologies Corp, has been selling electricity in California's deregulated market since September 1999. Its proposed 40 MW wind farm is to be sited near Alta Mesa, where enXco-owned turbines operate on land owned by Mark Technologies. Tenderland is talking with a short list of several turbine vendors, says Jones.

The project will be built on an undeveloped ridge, largely on private land and also partly on land owned by a municipality and by the US Bureau of Land Management. Tenderland says the project will likely be in several phases, but that it is building interconnect capable of carrying the output from 40 MW of installed wind capacity.