January 2, 1997 NORTH
Customers willingly pay more
for wind-generated power
- City residents in Michigan take part in
environmentally friendly opportunity
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. Dick Dell’Acqua says
he believes in doing business the environmentally
friendly way, even if it costs a bit more.
So when the local utility sought volunteers to
pay extra for power generated by a windmill, Dell’
Acqua signed up.
His Omelette Shoppe & Bakery became a leading
sponsor of the project, described by the American
Wind Energy Association as the nation’s biggest electricity-producing
It’s also the first wind power project to
be financed by a voluntary surcharge on electrical
customers, says Ed Holt, a utility industry consultant
who publishes a newsletter on such "green rates."
The monthly electric bill for Dell’Acqua’s eatery
jumped from roughly $1,600 to $1,900.
"When we got our first bill, I said, ‘Holy smoke,’"
he said. "But this is cleaner energy … and it kind
of goes along with the whole idea of trying to be
a better steward."
The 160-foot-high, 600-kilowatt windmill was
installed in June in an alfalfa field a few miles
west of Traverse City.
Positioned atop a bluff where breezes off Lake
Michigan average 14.5 mph, the machine is expected
to produce 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity
a year, enough to supply about 200 homes.
To pay for the project, 145 residential and
20 business customers of city-owned Traverse City
Light & Power accepted rate increases of 17 percent
to 23 percent. For the average residential customer,
that’s an extra $7.58 a month.
Along with power, the windmill is generating
excitement nationwide along advocates of renewable
energy. They say it represents a new concept in environmentalism
- the green rate.
"It really puts the onus on the customers," said
Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for
Resource Efficiency, a non-profit group based in Aspen,
Colorado, that promotes green pricing in that state.
Environmentalists "have always kind of banged
up utilities and businesses," Udall said. "But here’s
a way for us to step up ourselves and make tremendous
cuts in air pollution, acid rain, greenhouse gases,
all that stuff."
Green pricing debuted in the United States in
1993, said Holt, who publishes his newsletter in Harpswell,
Maine. The Sacramento to Municipal Utility District
asked customers for an extra $4 per month to have
solar panels atop their houses.
About 10 green pricing programs for electricity
are in place and two dozen more are in the works,
Some simply ask customers to contribute regularly
to a fund for renewable energy products. Another model
was introduced this year by Detroit Edison, which
began operating a solar-powered generator near Ann
Arbor and sell 100-watt blocks of electricity from
it for $6.59. About 200 customers have signed up,
Detroit Edison spokesman Scott Simons said.
Utilities across the nation are exploring
green pricing to finance alternative
energy projects, said Chuck Linderman of the Edison
Electric Institute, a trade association for investor-owned
"Whether it will sweep the country, it’s too early
to tell," said Linderman, the institute’s director
of renewable energy programs, "But I think it’s going
to be more than just a novelty."
The Traverse City green rate was the brainchild of
Steven Smiley, a local consultant who advises businesses
on reducing energy costs. Convinced that the area
was ideal for wind power, Smiley approached Chuck
Fricke, then executive director of Traverse City Light
& Power, about putting up a wind turbine.
Fricke said the utility was pleased so far with the
project. If it continues to be successful, the company
may consider a second turbine.
Fricke said that when Smiley suggested the windmill
project, he agreed to back it if it wouldn’t require
a rate increase for all 8,000 customers. With the
volunteers paying the green rate surcharge, plus a
state grant and federal tax incentive, the project
Electricity from the windmill doesn’t go directly
to the volunteers’ homes and businesses; it simply
becomes a part of the utility’s power grid.
Nonetheless, Fricke said, participants can rightfully
say their electricity is wind-generated. Each residential
green rate customer saves the equivalent of three
tons of coal, he said.
Businesses can offset some of the cost by publicizing
their participation in hopes it will draw customers.
Dell’Acqua said that was one reason he took part.
"It gives us a little higher profile, shows that
we’re doing our bit to be good citizens," he said.
[ED note: Emphasis added]