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The Winds of Change Across Colorado
  
by David Wann
 

In January 1999, New Belgium Brewing Company signed a ten year contract with the city of Ft. Collins to buy a wind turbine's worth of electricity. That dinosaur-sized turbine will produce approximately the same amount of power every year that the brewery currently uses—1.8 million kilowatthours (kWh). The agreement enabled the Platte River Power Authority (supplier of power to Estes Park, Longmont, Loveland and Ft. Collins) to construct another 660 kilowatts (kW) Vestas wind generator near Medicine Bow, Wyoming. To run the operation on a renewable source of electricity, the brewery will pay a $40,000 or 50,000 premium yearly—above the costs of conventional power.

Why? One reason is that New Belgium believes in the future of renewable energy. A second reason is that the company hopes its product will be perceived in beer coolers throughout the West as the "green" choice. The brewery wants to be seen as the good guys, nurturing an infant wind industry and brewing a clean beer. In its quest for a clean, green image, it is not alone.

Windsource turbines. Photos courtesy of Public Service Company of Colorado.Public Service of Colorado has been in the green energy market since 1993 when the Renewable Energy Trust program began. 13,000 Public Service Company customers now contribute to the tax-deductible Renewable Energy Trust by "rounding up" the monthly utility bill or making stand-alone pledges that support solar projects in schools, parks, and communities. Partly as a result of the success of this program, Public Service agreed to be a partner in a "green pricing strategy" with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies. Utility senior managers regarded a market-driven program as more financially viable than a simple "quota" installation, since customers would commit to the idea before the turbines were actually built.

So Public Service launched the Windsource program that soon won the endorsement of then-Governor Roy Romer, and the participation of six prestigious Windsource champions—IBM, U.S. West, Rocky Mountain Steel Mills, Coors Brewing Company, and the cities of Boulder and Denver. Each champion agreed to buy at least 250 100 kilowatt-hour blocks of wind energy each month for three years—essentially a third of a turbine's capacity from each company. Their participation added instant credibility to the Grassroots Campaign for Wind Power, staffed by the Land and Water Fund. The Campaign promptly sent out "street teams" to entice other customers, including small and large businesses. The strategy was a democratic, citizen-driven one, yet solidly within the framework of the market. Those signing up for Windsource would essentially cast "ballots" for wind power when they paid their utility bills.

It's not as if Windsource and its several companion programs are gambling on an unknown commodity. As early as 200 B.C., vertical-axis windmills were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East. When soldiers returning from the Crusades introduced wind technology to Europe in the eleventh century, the windmill helped usher in the Industrial Revolution. Now we've come full-circle: the fossil fuel-powered Industrial Revolution has spawned a new high-tech version of the windmill. And Rudd Mayer of the Land and Water Fund could not be more excited about promoting it.

"Colorado is pioneering a new grassroots approach for choosing where our energy comes from," she explained enthusiastically. "The grid is getting cleaner every week!" The numbers support her excitement. In the last few years, more than 15,000 individuals, businesses, and government agencies have opted to pay a little more every month to bring wind energy into the grid. Ten turbines were constructed by the end of 2000, enough to power 75,000 Colorado homes.

"Our street teams and other marketers really made the program happen," said Rudd. "We figured if Levi Strauss and Pepsi could go out and sell their products on the streets, so could we. We set up tables at events like the Boulder Creek Festival, where we signed up almost a hundred customers. Then we started approaching small businesses, explaining the tangible and intangible benefits of wind energy. So far, we've approached about a thousand businesses and about one in every six has responded favorably by signing a three-year contract."

The Land and Water Fund also makes presentations to local community groups like the Rotary Club, and places articles in newsletters and Websites (such as COGreenPower.org). Inventing the unprecedented green pricing program at every step, the group has become sophisticated in its marketing strategies, en route. Said Rudd, "We hired three former environmental canvassers to call on all the businesses on a particular street, after first contacting them with a personal letter. What helped them be successful was their familiarity with cold calling techniques, such as adjusting their presentation of an environmental message to appeal to people with a variety of views and belief systems." She observed, "We've also learned how to speak the language of business and to temper the passion and zeal that can make the corporate world feel uncomfortable."

Mayer refers to the Campaign's diverse marketing activities as "tilling the earth" and "planting the seeds." She explained, "Many of our efforts result in direct sign-ups, but they also prepare other potential customers to respond to notices in their utility bills, or direct mail campaigns." Her eyes light up as she imagines some of the fertile opportunities that still lie fallow. "One after another, we're getting out to churches, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, municipalities, and cultural venues such as museums and stadiums. For example, recently there was a nine-day Episcopal convention in Denver with nearly 20,000 attendees. We worked with the coordinators to have a box on registration forms that said, 'Sign here if you want this conference to be wind-powered for an extra $1 a head.' Wouldn't it be great to attend a wind-powered conference?"

Not that the lights would be any brighter, or the PA system any louder. But Denver's air might be just a bit cleaner. Referring to the farmers northeast of Fort Collins who lease land to Public Service for its largest wind facility, Rudd said, "They said they remember when the air was so clear they could see all the way to Denver. They're hoping the wind energy on their farm will help restore that view."

The Ponneguin wind site, on the Colorado-Wyoming border, is the largest of the wind farms that serves Colorado customers, with 21 turbines in place by 2000 and eight more scheduled. But two more wind farms in Medicine Bow, Wyoming (where New Belgium's turbine is) and Arlington, Wyoming are gearing up to harvest a wind resource that will last as long as the mountains. According to the Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the U.S., published by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, "The zone of high wind energy in southern Wyoming can be attributed to a major gap about 90 miles wide in the north-south barrier of the Rocky Mountains."

As that atlas documents, Colorado is also a wind-wealthy State. In fact, as Rudd explained, "There's enough reliable wind energy in Colorado to power 100 percent of our needs, and create a lot of jobs at the same time." She pointed out that states like Iowa and Minnesota have given the wind industry a boost by mandating installation of wind technology. "It would have been easier to bring wind on line here if Colorado had mandates like that, but since we couldn't make that happen, we decided to promote wind as a premium product of choice, sort of like organic food. Customers choose wind energy because they believe it's the healthiest, most sensible option-the right way to go."

Many of those customers are familiar with the environmental benefits of wind power, as presented by the Grassroots Campaign. Every penny spent to bring wind into the grid eliminates a pound of CO2 that would have contributed to global warming. By purchasing a block of 100 kilowatthours of wind energy for a $2.50 premium per month, a customer saves 1,200 pounds of coal every year-the energy equivalent of a car trip from New York City to Los Angeles. A household in which one-sixth of consumed electricity is from the wind may as well be planting half an acre of trees, every year.

Residential customers who subscribe to Windsource, or other wind programs from Colorado electric utilities like Platte River Power Authority and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative, may spend a little more for energy but their choice results in a little less smog, acid rain and nuclear waste. By supporting wind, they help "buy" fewer oil spills, climate change impacts, human health impacts, and less decline in biodiversity. For the cost of renting a video every month, these customers are reducing household carbon dioxide emissions by a full ten percent.

Is it citizen philanthropy? Is it New Age, holistic consumerism? Rudd believes the wind energy campaign is bringing conscience and social responsibility to an American industry that's been called "the single most polluting human activity." Yet she insists that heads-up utilities will benefit greatly by such programs. "Public Service Company, for example, was motivated to pursue green pricing for several different reasons," she said. "Market research indicated that many of its customers wanted a renewable energy option. Anticipating competition from potential deregulation, the company wanted to diversify its resource base, and gain experience marketing a new electricity product."

Coloradans and others who remain skeptical about the potentials of wind energy can watch the turbines spinning reliably, from their own living rooms, courtesy of Channel 9's "Windcam." If seeing is believing, wind power is for real.

  

David Wann works to present images of a more sustainable American lifestyle in articles, books, and films. His most recent book is The New Normal: An Agenda for Responsible Living, which challenges us to do some heavy lifting and transform our non-sustainable culture by transforming ourselves. Simple Prosperity presents 17 forms of real wealth that meet human needs directly, providing twice the satisfaction for half the resources. He is coauthor of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic and Superbia! 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods, and the author of The Zen of Gardening in the High and Arid West: Tips, Tools, and Techniques. Wann’s award-winning film Designing a Great Neighborhood was recently featured at the Princeton Film Festival. Visit his website at www.DaveWann.com.

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Resources.
 
 

David Wann's "Brewing a Sustainable Industry: New Belgium Brewing Company Aims for Zero Emissions" in this issue of Terrain.org

New Belgium Brewing Company

City of Fort Collins, Colorado

Colorado Sustainability Project, Inc.

Public Service Company's Windsource
 

 
     
    
  
 
   
    
  
 
   

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