Examples of community-based initiatives employing renewable energy resources abound from coast to coast.23 Where political will exists, local governments have played a significant role in generating political support for purchases of cleaner power. Following are five case studies of innovative programs incorporating community involvement in power purchase decisions.
Lessons from SMUD
What a Municipal Agency Can Do
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), California's second-largest municipal utility, has promoted renewable resources for much of the past decade. Many of SMUD's programs could be duplicated by other municipal governments, even those not already involved in the electricity business.
SMUD's persistent promotion of clean power stems from a 1989 citizen referendum. The referendum directed SMUD to shut down its troubled Rancho Seco nuclear reactor, ending a debilitating financial and public-relations disaster. Since then, the power agency has worked hard to recreate a sense of ownership among its citizen-customers. SMUD sought community help when developing a plan to replace the output of Rancho Seco by mailing ballots on power choices to all rate payers and holding public workshops on supply options. Citizens endorsed a diverse resource strategy, including a 5-megawatt (Mw), utility-owned wind project, as well as photovoltaics, wood-waste and other renewable technologies. At present, SMUD generates roughly half of its electricity from renewable resources, including hydroelectric and geothermal power.24
In response to the accelerating pace of restructuring, SMUD again turned to its citizen-customers, hosting a series of public workshops to plan its support of sustainable energy practices in a competitive era.25 Unfortunately, SMUD opted to cut its overall funding for "public goods" in 1997 to 3.7 percent of annual revenues, although this figure remained 40 percent higher than the level mandated by the state.
More propitious, in June 1997 the utility initiated a direct-access program that incorporated green power options for its customers and customers of other utilities. California's restructuring legislation allows municipal utilities to compete outside their service territories, providing they allow their own customers to select a new provider as well. On July 1, SMUD rolled out a marketing campaign for its "Greenergy" brand.26 By building its reputation as a green utility, SMUD hopes to increase energy sales outside of its service territory and thereby make up for revenue lost to departing large customers. SMUD's "Greenergy" program demonstrates that a municipal government agency can respond simultaneously to competition and to customer demand for clean power. Its effort to integrate commitments to clean power technologies for all its customers with new voluntary green marketing programs can serve as a model for other municipal governments.