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Monday, March 16, 2009

'Green' power premium part of energy solution

From an editorial in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram:

The issue: A proposed program would allow Xcel Energy customers to voluntarily pay extra for renewable power.

Our view: Bills would rise, but the program would give all of us a role in weaning our nation from fossil fuels.

In these days of economic uncertainty, paying more than you have to on a monthly bill seems like the equivalent of letting money go up in smoke.

But when it comes to utility costs, the opposite actually is true.

Xcel Energy's Wisconsin customers may soon have the option of paying a bit extra for their electricity to spur the production of more energy from "green" sources such as wind, solar and biomass. Boosting the use of renewable energy reduces reliance on nonrenewable sources, especially greenhouse-gas-producing coal. The price of renewable energy may be higher now, but spending more in the short term means less of our money will be converted into smoke - or at least carbon dioxide - in the long run. . . .

As noted earlier, customers who worry about the size of their existing bills may be skeptical of voluntarily paying more. That's understandable, and Xcel estimates only 3 to 5 percent of its Wisconsin customers will enroll. However, the higher the participation, the less costly renewable power becomes: Ten percent of Madison Gas and Electric's customers are enrolled in a similar program, and the premium they pay for wind power dropped from $2.67 to $1 per 100 kilowatts between 1999 and 2008.

Like any complex problem, weaning ourselves from fossil fuels - and the environmental havoc they bring - will take a concerted effort on many fronts. Big players such as utility companies, businesses and government regulators all have roles - but so does anyone who flips a light switch.

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