Renewable energy is becoming part of the economic development toolkit that local governments use to attract new businesses and keep old ones, and a new survey from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) demonstrates how voluntary green power programs can contribute to that effort. The survey rates the top ten utilities for green power programs, making the point that these programs enable utilities to provide more renewable energy than called for by state-mandated portfolios.
As a publicity measure, the NREL survey provides green-identified businesses located in these service areas with an extra boost of sustainability cred. It also suggests that businesses striving for a green identity can help themselves along by encouraging their local customers and vendors to participate in their utility company’s green power program.
The NREL Top Ten Green Utility Survey
NREL ranked the utilities in several different categories, the highlight being the total number of megawatt hours (MWh) renewable energy per year. As of 2012, the Top Ten in that category covered almost every major region of the country thanks in part to wind power, which provided about 85 percent of renewable energy capacity to voluntary green power programs.
At the top of the list was Portland General Electric with 834,125 MWh/year, followed closely by Austin Energy and PacifiCorp. The other seven each came in at less than 500,000 MWh/year: Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Xcel Energy, Puget Sound Energy, Connecticut Light and Power Co./United Illuminating, Dominion Virginia Power, Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., and CPS Energy.
Of the names on that list, Xcel Energy is probably the most familiar one to TriplePundit readers. The company introduced a voluntary Solar Rewards community solar program in Colorado last August that subscribed to capacity less than an hour after the application period opened. Xcel has also been ramping up its investment in wind power, though as of this writing its relationship with one major customer in Colorado, the city of Boulder, is in flux as city officials work on a plan to access more renewable energy through a proposed city-owned utility.
Many ways to measure green utilities
Total megawatts sold is a somewhat arbitrary measurement of green power programs, since it does not account for the size of a utility’s customer base. For that reason, it’s also helpful to look at some of the other measurements that NREL took into account, including the percentage of customer participation, the percentage of green power sales relative to total sales, and the lowest premium charged for green power.
That brings some new Top Ten green power players into the field. In the category of customer participation rate, for example, the City of Palo Alto (CA) comes out on top, with Portland General Electric coming in second followed by Madison (WI) Gas and Electric and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The other six are Naperville (IL), Pacific Power, Silicon Valley Power, River Falls Municipal Utilities, Stoughton Utilities and Cuba City Light & Water.
Things get even more interesting in the Top Ten category for green power sales as a percentage of total sales. Several of the names listed above make another appearance here, but the list also includes Waterloo Utilities at the top, followed by Edmond Electric, River Falls Municipal Utilities, Austin Energy, Pacificorp and Stoughton Utilities.
In terms of making voluntary green power programs more attractive and affordable through lower premiums, another set of new names makes an appearance, including the City of Ponca (OK) at the top followed by Public Service Co. of New Mexico, with others including Indianapolis Power & Light Co., Avista Corp., Arizona Public Service, and WPPI Energy.
Although wind power by far accounted for most of the sourcing for green power programs nationwide at 85 percent, solar is still of significance in terms of local availability, and NREL also identified five utilities that use at least two percent solar to supply their green power programs. Led by Sacramento Municipal Utility District at the top, in order, that group consists of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy (CO only), Palo Alto, Alameda Municipal Power, and Pacificorp.
All together, most, if not all, of these utilities are not household names beyond their service territory, but with the support of NREL, they have now been tagged as sustainability leaders nationwide, providing an extra bonus to their business customers in the context of growing consumer demand for products and services powered by renewable energy.
[Image: Wind farm (cropped) courtesy of Oregon BLM]