Ecology by Choice
I'm a big "choice" person. I want people to have the choice to do a lot of different things. I don't like monopolies, or overly restrictive regulation and I think those are fairly commonly held beliefs.
A few years ago I bought a house and started to pay more attention to the bills from our utility company, Xcel energy. One thing in the newsletter they send out got me curious: wind power for your homes. Xcel offers a program where you can buy wind electricity credits to cover your home usage. The details of the program aren't important aside from the fact that I pay a few extra dollars each month (and it really is just a few) so that my house and everything inside it "runs on wind power".
I like this solution because it lets Xcel know that I prefer a renewable energy source to a non-renewable one. Wind has its own problems, but I think they are outweighed by its benefits. This is great and I tell everyone I can to sign up for the program. It's amazing to me how many "environmentalist" friends that I know do not use this service.
Ecology by Force
A year and a half ago Colorado voted to force Xcel to make more of its energy from renewable sources with a specific amount from wind and a specific amount from solar. I'm opposed to this kind of regulation because our prescriptions for the amounts of wind/solar in the mix may not be the best decision 5 years from now, but we're basically stuck with them. I would much prefer that Xcel and residents work together in the way demonstrated by the wind credit program and through net-metering of home solar panels to help bring renewable energy into the mix based upon market demand. My belief was that if the people who voted for that renewable energy signed up for some wind credits then Xcel would see that the renewable energy sources stand on their own and that Xcel should provide more of them.
At the time of the legislation, there was excess capacity in the wind farm even though it's only 2% of the state electricity generation. How can a program that provides only 2% be under-subscribed when a ballot measure gets a popular vote by approximately 20% of the state? Basically it's because people are hypocrites or lazy or both. note: I got to 20% based upon ~60% of people in favor and ~30% voter turnout.
Ecology by choice only works when the supplier is responsibe
Today I was looking to buy more wind credits. While my home runs 100% on wind power, my business involves having a server. That server uses lots of power. I wanted to get an extra credit to cover that server. It turns out that the Xcel wind program is over subscribed! So, with legislation that forces them to use more renewable sources and even with the over subscribed wind-by-choice program, what is Xcel doing to increase renewable production?
Looking at the Xcel website for these details made me very sad.
First, look at their URLhttp://www.xcelenergy.com/XLWEB/CDA/0,3080,1-1-1_11824_12374_13852-866-2_68_132-0,00.html What the heck is that? Why does that URL have to be so complicated. That page is the Home // Environment // Renewable Energy // Wind Power page. Why can't the url be http://www.xcelenergy.com/environment/renewable-energy/wind-power ? Horrible web site that makes it harder for users and search engines alike.
Next, to quote from that page:
We meet our customers’ demand for Windsource® by generating or purchasing wind energy from wind turbines and supplying it onto our electrical system.
And from their "signup" page for the Wind Adjustment program
Currently Windsource is fully subscribed and cannot accept any new customers at this time. You may, however, sign up now and your name will be added to a waiting list. You will be enrolled in Windsource on a first-come, first-served basis as soon as more wind energy is available to purchase through Windsource.
So, where it says "meet our customer's demand" it should say "meet only some of our customer's demand". That is really really stupid.
As to plans for the future:
As of early 2006, we had about 1,100 megawatts of wind energy capacity in service, and expect to increase to more than 2,300 megawatts by the end of 2007. This includes more than 1,000 megawatts each in Colorado and Minnesota.
So they are going to double Colorado's production by the end of next year? This doesn't seem like enough to supply energy for the market demand - which is supposed to be the whole point of the "choice" paradigm. I'm not sure who to blame for them not reacting faster, but it's sad.