From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“Regulators will let Ameren Missouri continue its Pure Power green energy pricing program in the face of criticism from the Public Service Commission staff, which argued that the program lacks transparency.
Ameren has offered the voluntary program for almost six years. The PSC staff, a group of accountants, engineers and lawyers who advise the commission, has raised concerns about the program almost since its inception.
Most recently, the PSC staff asserted that Ameren’s 5,000 or so Pure Power participants don’t know how much of their money is going to aid renewable power development and how much of the money is used for marketing and administration.
“Customers have no idea what portion of their paid rates actually go to support renewable energy generation,” the PSC staff said in a brief filed with the commission this month.
The PSC disagreed on Wednesday. In a 17-page order, the commission said it wasn’t moved by the staff’s argument because the program is reasonably priced compared with others in Missouri and throughout the United States and it’s totally voluntary, and customers can drop out without penalty.
The PSC did attach one condition to its approval, though. Starting next April, Ameren must file an annual report describing how much of the money paid into the Pure Power program goes to support renewable energy and how much is used for other purposes.
The information, however, won’t be released publicly, so consumers won’t have any better idea where their money is going.
Still, Natelle Dietrich, director of the PSC staff’s utility operations department, said the reporting requirement should bring more transparency to the program by giving the commission staff a glimpse of how the money is being spent.
Ameren, meanwhile, is “pleased that the commission sees the value of the Pure Power program,” said Bill Barbieri, the utility’s director of renewable strategy, policy and generation.
Ameren began offering Pure Power in mid-2007. Today, customers have several ways to participate. They can pay an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity or purchase 1,000 kilowatt-hour blocks for $15 or 500 kilowatt-hour blocks for $7.50.
Historically, Ameren kept $1 of every $15 raised and the rest went to 3 Degrees Inc., the California-based company that administers the program. But starting May 1, the price of blocks of Pure Power will be reduced to $10, and all of it will go to 3 Degrees.
Barbieri said the cost of participation price was well below the $16 national average, and it’s the second lowest of nine green power pricing programs offered statewide. Of those, Pure Power is the only one offered by a utility.
Customers who enroll in Pure Power aren’t physically purchasing renewable energy; they’re helping purchase renewable energy certificates, or RECs, that in effect subsidize green power development.
In each of the past two years, 3 Degrees has sourced all of the RECs purchased on behalf of Pure Power customers from a single Missouri wind farm — Iberdrola Renewables’ 146-megawatt Farmers City wind farm in Atchison County.
“That’s the other advantage of our program is (the money) is going to support renewable development in the state of Missouri,” Barbieri said.
The PSC staff had argued that the program should be de-tariffed — a decision that would have forced Ameren to end the program or offer it as an unregulated service.
Barbieri said that would have required the utility to bill Pure Power participants separately for the service. And that would have killed the program.
“The administrative costs would have skyrocketed,” he said.
Barbieri said Ameren would provide a breakdown of Pure Power program expenditures next year as required by the commission’s order.
But, he said, the data cannot be released publicly because renewable energy certificates are sourced from a single supplier, the Iberdrola wind farm, and the information is considered proprietary.”
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch