NREL Releases List of Top Utility Green Power Programs

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released its list of the top utility-run green power programs in the country. The list highlights the biggest programs providing electricity from renewable or green sources to consumers, typically for a few added cents per kilowatt hour.

Utility green power sales in 2009 exceeded 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), and they represent more than 5 percent of total electricity sales for some of the most popular programs, according to an NREL press release.

The top program in terms of total kilowatt hours sold is Austin Energy’s GreenChoice, with 764,895,830 kWh sold last year.┬áThe utility has benefited from strong Texas wind-power generation (reaching a record 19 percent of total power supply earlier this year). But the program actually struggled to sell its supply last year when renewable energy prices nearly tripled.

A close second went to Portland General Electric, with 740,880,487 kWh sold. PGE had the largest number of renewable energy customers in the United States, 73,000 businesses and individuals. That’s 10.3 percent of its customer base.

But in terms of customer participation, the City of Palo Alto Utilities’ Palo Alto Green program was actually number one, with a staggering 20.8 percent of the customer base buying green power. Given the city’s location in the heart of Silicon/Cleantech Valley, perhaps this isn’t so surprising.

Premiums continue to fall

One reason customers continue to flock to green power programs is that the rates charged for such electricity continue to fall (not withstanding Austin’s problems). According to NREL, the average net price premium for utility green power products has decreased from 3.48 cents/kWh in 2000 to 1.75 cents/kWh in 2009.

More than 650,000 customers are participating in green utility programs nationwide.

Controversy over some programs

PG&E, the nation’s largest utility, was notably absent from the list. The utility launched a carbon offset program in 2007 that allowed customers to buy carbon offsets for electricity used, but the program experienced low rates of participation.

The Top Ten Utility Green Power Programs (in terms of sales):

1 Austin Energy Wind
2 Portland General Electric
3 PacifiCorp
4 Sacramento Municipal Utility District
5 Xcel Energy
6 Puget Sound Energy
7 Connecticut Light and Power
8 National Grid
9 Public Service Company of New Mexico
10 We Energies

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.