Many public power companies across the country have begun so-called “green power” programs. They offer customers energy produced from something other than coal, such as wind or water – if customers agree to pay higher rates. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports, many utilities are having a tough time getting people interested in green power:
Many public power companies across the country have begun so-called “green power” programs.
They offer customers energy produced from something other than coal, such as wind or water, if
customers agree to pay higher rates. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner
reports, many utilities are having a tough time getting people interested in green power:
There are two-thousand public power utilities in the United States. They’re run by local
governments, and are essentially owned by their customers – instead of by investors. A handful of
public utilities have begun offering special “green power” programs. And some of them are working
In Minnesota, Moorhead Public Service built a second wind turbine because its “Capture the Wind”
program has been so successful. But that’s not been the case for many municipal-owned utilities.
(power plant sound up/under)
The Board of Water and Light in Lansing, Michigan, is the largest public utility in the Great Lakes
region. It began buying green power two years ago – half of it is made from landfill gas, the rest is
hydro power produced at dams in northeast Michigan. Customers can get half their power from
those sources for an extra seven-dollars-and-fifty-cents a month.
But the program hasn’t been as popular as the utility had hoped. Spokesperson John Strickler says
only 700 of the company’s 100-thousand customers have signed up for it.
“We were a little bit surprised and a little bit disappointed that we didn’t have more
customers subscribe to that product.”
It’s a problem many power companies are having. Joe Nipper is with the American Public Power
Association. He says for one reason or another, people just don’t seem to be willing to pay more
for cleaner energy.
“For many folks the power bill is a significant part of their bills every month and they watch
that closely. I think maybe another part of it is despite the effort by Lansing and others to
make the public aware of the benefits of these programs, still, in all, in some cases, little is
understood about them.”
Some environmentalists say power companies need to tell people that burning coal in power plants
pollutes the air they breathe. And that green power doesn’t release harmful emissions. David Gard
is with the Michigan Environmental Council.
“People don’t understand generally that there is a very close connection between smog and
soot pollution that come mainly from power plants and very severe health impacts that we
end up paying for as a society in very major ways. We have lots of evidence that the kinds
of pollutants that come out of coal-fired power plants are causing childhood asthma,
mercury poisoning of fish, which are then eaten by people, and other kinds of diseases.”
Gard commends the Lansing Board of Water and Light for attempting to sell cleaner energy, but he
argues the green power program will never be successful the way it’s set up now. Gard says
instead of a voluntary program, all customers should share the cost of green power.
But the Board of Water and Light’s Nick Burwell says the utility won’t raise rates unilaterally for a
service people are not demanding.
“We basically have a dual role. One in providing electricity and the other in protecting our
owners and working for our owners. And basically whatever they want is what we will
provide. If out of the blue they were to suddenly say we want you to spend this much money
and become, oh I don’t know, some new technology and triple our bills, that would be great
with us because they own us. They drive what we do and the actions we take.”
And so far, rate payers have shown they’re not that interested in buying green power. Lansing
Board of Water and Light officials say they take their responsibility to the environment and to the
health of their customers very seriously. But they say unless more people become willing to pay for
cleaner energy, they likely won’t expand the program any further.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.