OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska's largest utility is offering customers the chance to pay more to support renewable energy, but the money won't be earmarked for green power and the utility doesn't plan to change where it gets its electricity.
The Nebraska Public Power District announced the voluntary program Wednesday. Starting next year, customers will be able to pay a fee to support renewable energy.
Spokesman Mark Becker said customers urged the utility to adopt a rate program like this.
"Some people say they want to be green, and this is one way they can do that," Becker said.
But it's not clear exactly how this rate program would make customers more "green." The source of their electricity won't change, and Becker said the money will go into NPPD's general budget, where it may or may not be used for renewable energy.
And NPPD is sticking to its overall goal of generating 10 percent of its electricity with renewable energy, primarily wind, by 2020.
Ken Winston, the Nebraska Sierra Club's policy advocate, said he'd prefer to see NPPD invest in generating more renewable energy. And Winston said he's concerned that the surcharge sends a message that renewable power is more expensive.
"We'd like to see something that really changes the energy mix, as opposed to something that just changes the customer's bill," Winston said.
Utility customers who sign up for NPPD's program will pay the green energy surcharge on top of their regular bill, and they can decide how big of a surcharge they want to pay.
Customers can opt out of the program after a month.
Many utilities offer some former of renewable energy rate program, said Jenny Heeter, a renewable energy analyst with the U.S. Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Heeter said these programs typically use the money from a green energy fee to either buy renewable energy credits or they reserve some of their own renewable energy production to meet demand from supporters of the green energy program.
Earlier this fall, NPPD was sharply criticized by environmental groups after the utility rejected a proposal to buy up to 200 additional megawatts of wind energy by the end of the year.
NPPD officials said at the time that passing on the wind power deal made sense because the utility already produces more power than its customers use.
Environmental groups say the state's other big utilities — Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System — have both been more aggressive about adding renewable sources of energy.
NPPD's Green Club: http://www.nppd.com/greenclub
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