Blue-light special

By By Andy Thompson and By Andy Thompson

By Andy Thompson

Did you know that the U offers an opportunity to decrease global warming that no one in the entire country can match? Through the U, wind power can be bought for nearly seven times less than the cost of Blue Sky’s renewable energy program. While the equivalent of one megawatt-hour of wind power costs $19.50 through Blue Sky, the U’s price is just $3 per megawatt-hour. The significance in this price differential is obvious: If the 18,000 customers Blue Sky has in Utah were to buy wind power through the U, at least 20 million more pounds of carbon dioxide emissions would be prevented from polluting the air. Blue Sky, a program of Rocky Mountain Power-which is a division of PacifiCorp-attributes its high cost to administration and marketing. Blue Sky has not reviewed its price rate since May 2003 (when it had 5,600 customers in Utah), and there is no set date in the future to re-examine the costs. Neither Rocky Mountain Power nor its parent company MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. is allowed to profit from wind power, yet the price for it remains the same after a 300-percent increase in its consumer base.Where’s all the extra cash going?With a multinational conglomerate as large as MidAmerican, consisting of seven subsidiaries and 33 divisions-such as Rocky Mountain Power-it is difficult to track the money trail. Aside from administration and marketing expenses, Blue Sky’s media relations department reports that the company must endure tariffs, old contracts and a lengthy bureaucratic process. Meanwhile, the U is allowed to be more flexible when pursuing alternative energy sources. With $66,000 that the Associated Students of the University of Utah granted for four years, the U sought out the best price for renewable energy credits-the currency used by Blue Sky and the majority of alternative energy merchants to measure the sale of wind power. The U found Sterling Planet, a company active in developing sustainable energy, and was able to land the $3 per megawatt-hour rate.Sterling Planet, which leads the country in renewable energy credits provided, does not typically charge such a low rate. Its standard national offer varies from $10-$15 per megawatt-hour, mimicking the national average for wind power.Nowhere, at least through an hour-long navigation of the Web, is there an offer of wind power at $3 per megawatt-hour-except at the U. The U biochemistry department, led by Professor Christopher Hill, spearheaded efforts to extend the wind power program and began a “campaign for sustainable energy.” “I wanted to find cheaper ways to offset the amount of [carbon-based] energy I use everyday,” Hill said. Initially, the campaign’s goal was to purchase the amount of renewable energy credits equivalent to the energy needed to power the biochemistry department. Today, the campaign has a much larger ambition. “I believe many ordinary people would be quite willing to pay a little bit to make a real difference,” Hill said-and $3 is a whole lot less than $19.50.This opportunity to make a difference is not limited to U students, faculty and staff, but open to all the public. The 18,000 existing Blue Sky customers can get seven times the bang (or blow) for their buck, and state citizens can take their new tax break and get a tax-deductible from the U for their donation toward climate control. (Do I hear Christmas bells for that person in your life who has everything-including a Hummer?) ASUU should be applauded in this endeavor as well. It committed $1 per student per semester for the project. Of course, I’d be all right with allocating $1 per class I take each semester. That’s the equivalent of, what, two Diet Cokes at Christopher’s Seafood and Steak House? All kidding aside, ASUU should look into a larger allotment for sustainable energy-put it to a student vote. In the meantime, we all can donate by going to http://windpower.utah.edu. I’ll even give up a week’s worth of PBR for the cause.

Ryan Perkins