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PSE offers pricey 'green' power

For a price, green-minded Puget Sound Energy customers can contribute to the greater environmental good of Washington state.

But in buying green power, no individual PSE customer can be sure he or she is using electricity produced without burning fossil fuels or pouring river water over a dam.

This year, PSE began marketing its "Green Power" program in advertisements inserted into customer billing statements. For an optional charge of $4 a month, power customers can purchase 200 kilowatt hours of green power produced by windmills at Stateline Wind Farm near Walla Walla. That electricity is added to the supply PSE holds in its power "grid," the network of transmission lines and equipment that serves the private utilty's customers in Western Washington and in one county in Eastern Washington

Green power purchased from the wind farm is diffused throughout the PSE system and cannot be sent to directly to individual customers.

According to PSE spokesperson Dorothy Braken, a few Puget Sound Energy customers are thinking green these days. Though the program has been in place since January, Braken said it is attracting only a few customers each month.

"Since the beginning of the year, 2,065 customers have signed up to buy green power," she said.

PSE has about 960,000 total customers in Washington. Even though the number of green customers is miniscule in that total, Braken said green power is a program PSE plans to maintain.

"We've had a lot of inquiries and interest in green power, and we will continue to offer it as an option," she said.

Green power is not cheap. The cost of kilowatt hours generated by by "green" windmills is 17 cents per kilowatt hour versus 6 cents for hydroelectric power. Because of the higher cost, the company is only purchasing green power on a special order basis -- a customer must pay for the power before PSE purchases it. Braken said offering the option of buying green leaves the choice open to the consumer, will pay for the development of wind farms other alternative sources of energy. Plans are underway for future wind farms along the Columbia River Gorge and near Ellensburg.

The minimum green power purchase is $4 for 200 kilowatts; additional blocks of 100 kilowatt hours are sold for $2 each.

At present, while green power represents a tiny fraction of the energy PSE distributes, the program is a "feel good" option. But, said Braken, as more customers participate, the amount of green power in the PSE system could rise.

"By participating the customer can know they have added eco-friendly energy to the grid system and are helping to develop more green sources," she said.

Braken said PSE does not keep track of the number of people in individual counties who sign up for green power, so she was unable to say how many Island County residents have chosen to pay for the option.

According to marketing information distributed in PSE power bills, 100 customers choosing the minimum Green Power plan for a year is equal to planting 70 acres of trees.

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