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Published on May 14th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


How Green is Your Utility? NREL Rates the Top Ten for Renewable Energy

May 14th, 2011 by  

NREL ranks top ten green power programs at utillitiesThe National Renewable Energy Laboratory came out with its Top Ten list for renewable energy programs by utilities last week, and it indicates some strong points of growth in the green energy sector. The report looked at 850 utilities that offer voluntary green power programs, which offer customers a chance to earmark their energy consumption for wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. The catch is that customers generally have to pay a premium for green power. That may seem like a huge turn-off, especially in tough times. However, some utilities have already racked up some pretty impressive numbers, and in some areas the price of renewable energy is nosediving to cost-competitiveness with fossil fuels.

Wind Energy Comes out on Top

NREL found that wind energy accounted for more than three-fourths of the energy in green power programs. In terms of the green jobs potential in renewable energy that’s not such great news for states like Wisconsin, which unaccountably shut down its wind power initiative a couple of months ago. However, it’s great news for wind-rich states like Idaho, which stand to benefit from federal smart grid programs that would enable it to export more wind power.

The Greenest Little Utility in Texas

There are different standards to rank green energy programs, so NREL actually compiled several Top Ten lists, not just one. Austin Energy in Texas came out in front for selling the largest volume of renewable energy in terms of kilowatt hours per year. In terms of the percentage of customer participation, the City of Palo Alto Utilities in California won that category. Portland General Electric in Oregon was tops in the total number of customers signed up for its renewable energy program. As a percentage of a utility’s total retail electricity sales, Waterloo Utilities in Wisconsin did the best. As for the premium charged for green energy, Indiana’s Indianapolis Power & Light Company was the lowest at only 0.14 cents (that’s .14 cents, not 14 cents) per kwH. The full NREL report is available here.

Community Solar and Green Utilities

NREL also compiled a list of utilities with community solar programs, which it sees as a particularly strong area of growth. These programs enable customers to invest in locally based solar installations regardless of whether or not their own property is suitable for solar power. This type of arrangement is ideal for communities that are characterized by mature trees and/or rental properties.

Your NREL and You

When the cost of renewable energy finally does come down to meet – and beat – the cost of fossil fuels on a national basis, those pesky meddling government scientists at NREL will deserve part of the credit. In addition to its cutting edge wind power research, the lab’s latest breakthrough is a collaborative effort to improve the use of solar energy in producing biofuels.

Image: Solar power courtesy of Oregon DOT on flickr.com.


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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