Holy Cross blowin’ in the wind
It’s a mighty wind that blows for customers of Holy Cross Energy these days.The last of the wind power available through the company was sold earlier in 2005 after more than seven years of aggressive marketing, according to spokesman Bob Gardner.”We worked for years to get the program fully subscribed,” he said. “It was a hard sell that final year.”Holy Cross signed a contract with Xcel Energy to purchase wind power from its Ponnequin Wind Farm in northern Colorado in 1997. The contract was for five megawatts of wind power. Holy Cross offered it in increments to its 50,000 customers in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys.The first megawatt was snatched fast by customers eager to make an environmentally friendly statement. They didn’t balk, even though the price of wind power was higher than the price Holy Cross charged for electricity generated from burning fossil fuels.Additional megawatts were added in the late 1990s and into the new century, and sales remained strong. But selling the last megawatt was no breeze. It required a lot of promotion and patience on the part of Holy Cross for about two years.”The bloom was off the rose then,” Gardner said.Nevertheless, 2,711 customers participate in the wind power program. Customers who want wind power now must put their names on a wait list. When an existing customer who purchased the alternative energy moves away or opts out of the program, Holy Cross offers wind power to the first person on the list.Ironically, Holy Cross’ availability of wind power has disappeared just when it became more economical. Holy Cross added a “power cost adjustment” to customers’ bills in spring 2002 to offset the soaring cost of natural gas.In October and November, for example, customers paid 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour in addition to their base fee for electricity.When that power cost adjustment was first added, it was applied to wind power as well as power generated by plants that use fossil fuels. Holy Cross officials had an internal discussion and decided it wasn’t fair to add that fee to wind power.”We thought it was not right because wind power doesn’t fluctuate, gas does,” Gardner said.At least, wind power costs don’t fluctuate right now for Holy Cross. It signed a contract with Xcel Energy in 1997 to buy wind power at a set price – $2.50 per 100 kilowatt hours. That price is locked in for 15 years.That fee is passed directly to consumers. Holy Cross determined the power cost adjustment shouldn’t apply to wind power because a special fee was already charged.As a result, it didn’t cost as much to be green in 2005. The extra fee charged for wind power was nearly offset by the power adjustment charge on fossil-fuel power.The average Holy Cross residential customer uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours per month. The November bill for a customer who doesn’t use wind power would be $104.52 without tax. The bill for a customer who uses all wind power would be $111.52.That gap, or the premium for wind power, started narrowing this year.For the Aspen Skiing Co., one of Holy Cross’ biggest wind power customers, closing the gap helps justify its decision to buy wind power from a financial perspective, according to Skico Director of Environmental Affairs Auden Schendler.”The more cost-effective it is, the better,” he said.Wind power harder to findHoly Cross customers aren’t the only ones noticing. Xcel Energy’s Windsource program has soared in popularity since prices for electricity produced with fossil fuels went up, according to company spokesman Tom Henley. Xcel Energy is Colorado’s top power provider.Xcel customers who bought only wind power recently saw smaller electricity bills than people who bought no wind power. Henley said the company’s average residential customer uses 625 kilowatt hours per month. With no wind power, the bill would have been about $63 in October. For all wind power, the bill would have been close to $59.Initially, Xcel Energy’s wind power program attracted people who wanted to promote alternative energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Saving money proved to be an even bigger incentive.”When the price dropped, more and more people signed up for the program,” he said. There are 33,265 Colorado customers in the program.Like Holy Cross, Xcel has sold all of its available wind power, or 61 megawatts in the Windsource program. It’s developing a wait list for new clients.So if Holy Cross and Xcel Energy both have wait lists, why don’t they add more wind power? It’s not that easy, said Gardner and Henley.Gardner said wind power is currently difficult to find from its wholesale power providers. Even if it wanted to embark on another marketing effort with its customers, it might not be able to provide wind power, he said.Henley said Xcel Energy’s Ponnequin plant is producing to capacity. The company will add wind power to match customer demands, but the price might be higher. Henley said wind farms are more expensive to build right now because the turbines, with the long blades that reach into the sky, are climbing in price and steel for the platforms is soaring and becoming scarce.Henley also said the popularity of wind power could fade. Natural gas is dropping in price, so the advantage of wind power isn’t as great.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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