Green electrons for sale 

Alternative Energy

On Dec. 1 Sen. Max Baucus announced that Montana would receive $72 million in federal financing for 34 new wind-power projects, thanks to a new program that awards no-interest bonds to support small, clean-energy projects.

That’s good news for supporters of green or “climate neutral” energy, but despite widespread support for renewable energy projects, there aren’t many obvious options for consumers to actually buy those eco-friendly electrons.

The Ravalli Electric Cooperative (REC) last month voted to give its members an option to do just that when it authorized the purchase of $5,000 worth of “Green Tags”—certificates representing a specific amount of electricity generated by a renewable energy source, which help subsidize new alternative energy projects—for sale to its customers.

“We’re offering our consumers a chance to say, ‘we support the development of clean, renewable sources of energy,’” says REC’s Jim Maunder.

Maunder says REC hasn’t even started marketing the Green Tags to consumers, who pay a slightly higher rate for the knowledge that a portion of their energy comes from green producers, and already he’s received seven calls from consumers interested in signing up.

That doesn’t surprise Pat Judge, energy program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“We have some good polling data that shows a high level of interest in such a program, but almost no one is aware that it exists,” Judge says of NorthWestern Energy’s “E+Green” program. Judge says 60 percent of NorthWestern customers polled in September said they liked the idea of paying a bit more for green electricity, but only 26 percent had ever heard of NorthWestern’s program.

Officials at REC, which is buying its second round of Green Tags in six years (payment for the first round was “socialized” to all REC ratepayers), think individual consumers are ready to support green energy.

“Renewable energy is the future,” Maunder says. “This a way they can support the development of more renewable sources of generation right here in Montana.”

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