In 2011, the residents of Boulder, Colorado approved a ballot measure that would enable their city to get more clean, locally generated renewable energy and break away from their utility company, Xcel Energy. As it turns out, the drastic measure might not be needed after all. Xcel Energy has emerged as a wind power leader, and at last count it was working with Boulder officials on a plan to add more renewables into the city's energy mix.
Regardless of how things work out in Boulder (and we hope it's a win-win for everyone), the episode shows that the development of local, renewable energy sources can give communities some pretty heavy leverage with their energy provider. That's an especially good development for businesses that are eager use the appeal of wind power to attract and keep customers.
While Xcel's progress up to 2011 might not have been up to snuff by Boulder standards, in recent years it has claimed title to the "number one utility wind provider in the U.S.," and things really took off last year.
In 2012, the U.S. added a record 13,124 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity. On a state-by-state basis Colorado ranked a respectable 10th with 496 MW, and Xcel accounted for 400 MW of that through its purchase of power from a Colorado wind farm owned by NextEra Energy Resources.
The contribution of the Colorado wind farms to Xcel's total energy mix only averaged 17 percent last year, but it did set a record-setting peak of 57 percent at one point in August. Xcel anticipates that continued progress on wind power grid integration and intermittent energy management will enable it to keep building on that platform.
As another example of that trend, Xcel has been promoting small scale, distributed solar power in Colorado through a Colorado solar power program called Solar Rewards. Part of the program is designed to make solar power available to residents in multi-family buildings, who generally can't have their own solar panels on site, by making it easier for them to "subscribe" to a solar installation in their community.
That adds up to an impressive collective benefit, but if you own or manage a business in a city like Boulder you're also interested in the secondary benefits that could accrue to your individual establishment.
Namely, studies are beginning to show that consumers prefer to patronize businesses that use wind power or other forms of renewable energy. Last September, for example, the global wind turbine company Vestas commissioned a particularly interesting study of consumer preferences, based partly on a survey that asked respondents whether they thought climate change was the "single greatest challenge in the world today."
Only 17 percent of respondents agreed with that statement, but 62 percent said they would be more willing to buy products made with wind energy.
That indicates there is plenty of common ground for energy companies like Xcel to answer their customers' calls for more wind power, regardless of where the prevailing political winds blow on global warming.
[Image: Wind turbines courtesy of Xcel Energy]