TAMPA — Want a "green" baseball game, or to host a conference powered entirely by renewable energy? Tampa Electric can now sell it to you.
The utility on Tuesday won unanimous approval from the Public Service Commission state regulators to sell blocks of renewable energy to customers looking for a one-time offset, adding to the program that allows customers to buy monthly blocks of renewable power.
"We saw across the country the fact that renewable energy was taking root. A lot of utilities were getting involved with it, and we wanted to get involved, too," said Howard Bryant, a manager of regulatory affairs at the Tampa utility.
Tampa Electric started its renewable energy program in 2001, and it has grown rapidly in the last two years. In 2007, participation in the program rose 66 percent; it's up another 27 percent in the first six months of 2008. As of this summer, about 3,100 customers have enrolled — less than half of one percent of the utility's clients.
"You're frankly not going to get very many people. It's very difficult," Bryant said.
Customer surveys find broad support for renewable initiatives, but it's a small dedicated group that will actually fork over cash to participate.
"Where the rubber meets the road, and the customer has to start paying for it, your participation goes down," Bryant said.
Tampa Electric's renewable energy program invites customers to pay $5 a month to buy 200-kilowatt hour blocks of electricity generated from sunlight, biomass or landfill gas. To enroll, customers had to commit to participate for at least a year. Tampa Electric on Tuesday won approval to lift the one-year requirement, which will allow customers to make one-time purchases to power convention centers, hotels or sports venues. The new rules go into effect Oct. 30.
The utility buys its renewable energy from other power plants in Florida. These are power purchases Tampa Electric would not otherwise have made, Bryant stressed. Renewable programs like this one must demonstrate "additionality" — that the renewable power would not have been generated anyway.
Solar's contribution to the program is tiny. The utility's four solar installations have a combined capacity of 39.5 kilowatts, while 16 customer-owned solar systems offer another 140 kilowatts. All told, the solar systems feed less than 30,000 kilowatt hours a year into Tampa Electric's system, not even enough to power three homes for a year.
Tampa Electric buys the rest of its renewable power — 850,000 kilowatt hours a month — from two power plants. The Okeelanta facility burns biomass like sugar bagasse. A Wheelabrator plant in Polk County generates power using landfill gas, Bryant said.
The company tried creating its own biomass power by mixing organic waste with other fuels, like coal, but found it too expensive and discontinued attempts four years ago, Bryant said.
Asjylyn Loder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3117.