Tom Arrandale is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Electricity deregulation is paying unexpected environmental dividends. In several states, it is opening up markets for clean power generated by renewable resources.
In Texas, electricity suppliers are responding to the 1999 electric restructuring law by forging ahead with renewable power projects, primarily from wind. The law established a renewable market portfolio that requires retail power companies to boost the megawatts of power they purchase from renewable sources to 2,000 megawatts over a 10-year schedule. That mandate helped spark a boom in windmill farms in windy West Texas that's already closing in on 1,000 megawatts, doubling the state's 400-megawatt target for 2003. By setting a standard in megawatts, not percentages, green-power advocates say the Texas law has given utilities a clear-cut, clean-power responsibility. "Texas has created the largest single market for renewables in the country," says Alan Nogee, clean energy program director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
About a dozen other states are also imposing renewable-power portfolios. Earlier this year, the Nevada legislature set an ambitious goal that requires energy companies to boost renewable sources to 15 percent by 2013. And, after four years of work, Massachusetts energy officials this fall were ready to order electric generators and distributors to produce 4 percent of their power from low-polluting resources by 2009.
Pennsylvania's three-year-old deregulation of electricity does not use the portfolio approach, but nearly 120,000 customers have taken advantage of competitive retail markets to sign up for "green power" packages from windmills, biomass-burning plants and other less- polluting alternatives to fossil fuel power plants.