Although MG&E's program is not the largest in the US, it is believed to have the highest percentage of customers to sign up for green power being offered by a utility at a premium rate. The 5200 residential and 100 commercial customers willing to pay more for clean energy make up just over 5% of the utility's 105,000 customers, although wind power from the program makes up only 0.6% of the total load. Business customers account for about 2% of participants, but they are buying about 21% of the project's wind power.
The most recent business to sign up is the city of Madison's bus system. Metro Transit has agreed to get 25% of its power from MG&E's 11.2 MW wind farm in Kewaunee county, about 800,000 kWh a year, or 3% of the output. The wind farm went on-line in June and consists of 17 Vestas V47 turbines.
The bus system had looked at reducing emissions by switching some of its buses to compressed natural gas (CNG). "Wind power is a far less expensive means for Metro to be a smart energy consumer, as well as an environmentally sensitive city agency," says Metro manager Paul Larrousse. "The additional cost will be approximately $26,000 over the next year." Metro's wind purchase is roughly the equivalent of running ten buses a year with no carbon dioxide emissions
Although MG&E developed its wind farm to supply the green pricing program, the utility later decided to use 3 MW of the project to satisfy the terms of Wisconsin's Reliability Act of 1997, which mandated that the four utilities in eastern Wisconsin develop 50 MW of new renewables. Since MG&E's wind farm plans pre-dated the mandate, and since they exceeded the amount required by the law, it was unclear whether they were bound to it.
"The pace at which we sold out, it's just been phenomenal," says MG&E vice president Greg Bollom. "We were faced with not meeting the mandate or misleading our customers if they signed up. And we weren't comfortable with that from a customer perspective. We needed to maintain the trust of our customers. So the solution was to not count any of the mandated power toward the green pricing."
MG&E is evaluating plans for future wind development. Although siting its Kewaunee county wind farm was difficult, and FPL Energy is having difficulties with its Allenton, Wisconsin, project (Windpower Monthly, November 1999), Bollom has not ruled out new development. "Fighting the siting battle in Wisconsin is worth it in the long run," he says. "We'll sit back and watch to see how the FPL project goes, so that when we make a decision it will be the best for everyone."
MG&E is also looking at a photovoltaic option, but not biomass. "We've found that to the lion's share of our customers, green energy means wind and solar," explains Bollom. We can get scientists in a room and prove the green-ness [of biomass], but to our customers, it still comes out of a smokestack. Wind and solar are the things that really grab people."