U.S. energy giant Direct Energy is testing the consumer market for alternative energy in Texas, with the launch of a new 100 percent Texas wind power brand that it's calling New Leaf Energy. The new venture will provide customers in Greater Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and other areas with the option to get their electricity from certified renewable sources. That could include solar power and other renewables, but for now Direct Energy is getting its supply all from wind turbines located within Texas.
At first glance starting up a venture like New Leaf in Texas appears to be a risky proposition, since the state is so closely identified with the oil and gas industry. However Direct Energy appears to be confident that New Leaf will gain acceptance not simply as a way to do something good for "the environment" in the abstract, but also as a way for Texas citizens to help benefit the communities in which they live.
Texas and alternative energy Texas is lagging a bit when it comes to solar power, but it is becoming a national centerpiece for algae biofuel research and its wind power industry is coming on strong.
Last May, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for about 85 percent of Texas electricity customers, reported that renewable energy on the Texas grid had climbed 13 percent in the past year, with the vast bulk of the increase coming from new wind capacity.
That comports with a new Department of Energy wind energy report showing that wind power accounted for 32 percent of new capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2011.
A new leaf for Texas electricity customers New Leaf customers will pay about $25 more over standard rates for their access to renewable energy, but they get a lot of bang for their buck.
One thing they're getting is bragging rights to home state pride, since New Leaf is certifying (through third party Green-e®) that its renewable energy is generated "100 percent from Texas wind turbines."
Another thing they're getting is a direct connection with positive impacts in their communities, through New Leaf's energy efficiency grants for non-profit organizations sponsored by Direct Energy.
The program is called Reduce Your Use™ for Good, and New Leaf plans to keep its customers engaged in the program through its blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Shopping for electricity, for a cause By linking New Leaf directly to community projects, Direct Energy appears to be inspired by the "shop for a cause" model, which should be familiar to anyone who has bought a T-shirt with the understanding that part of the price goes to fund a worthy cause.
One recent example of the merchandising-for-good model is the Red Project to raise funds for AIDS prevention.
The subtle message of New Leaf for Texas electricity customers is that power is a commodity, just like any other piece of goods. When you buy a product you make judgements about value in the context of your household budget.
Depending on your circumstances, sometimes the budget wins out, but sometimes you are willing to pay a little more to get a better quality product.
With New Leaf, Direct Energy is betting that Texas electricity customers know a good value when they see it.
Image: U.S. and Texas flags. Some rights reserved by CC Rogers.
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.