Economy

"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

 

A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY
- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -

Community-Based Marketing For Renewable Energy

Since 1997, the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies has spearheaded a grassroots marketing campaign for renewable energy in Colorado which has resulted in a five to ten-fold expansion of the local utility’s plans for wind-generated energy.

Origins

The Land and Water Fund of the Rockies (LAW Fund) is a non-profit environmental law and policy center, dedicated to restoring and protecting the natural environment of the Interior American West (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). The Energy Project of the Land and Water Fund was started in 1991, to make it economically feasible for utilities and others in the region to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In 1996, the LAW Fund and other environmental groups in Colorado were unsuccessful in a campaign to obtain a regulation that would have obliged the state’s largest electric utility, Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo), to add 10 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy to its capacity. As a result of the ruling, however, PSCo agreed to set up a voluntary renewable energy tariff, through which customers could choose to buy energy from a new wind project that PSCo would develop, by paying a premium of US 2.5 cents per kWh on their electricity bills. With the negative ruling behind them, the LAW Fund decided to change tack, and work with PSCo to help them develop the new wind energy program.

Aims and Objectives

The LAW Fund’s aims were to use community-based, grassroots marketing efforts to educate consumers about the environmental, public health and economic impacts of their electricity use and build demand for clean energy from the ground up.

Activities

Before the wind energy project could get underway, a number of obstacles had to be overcome. The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society (two very active NGOs) refused to support it until their concerns about wildlife and potential birdkills were addressed through the appropriate reviews. Some clean energy NGOs opposed the partnership on principle, arguing that green power premiums were the wrong way to develop renewable energy. The electric utility, PSCo, had concerns that the LAW Fund would use its wind energy marketing to talk about the negative impacts of coal-fired power. Before work could start, the LAW Fund agreed to limit its references to coal, and to talk instead about the benefits of renewable energy.

When the campaign got underway in spring 1997, its targets were small and large businesses, residential customers, and local governments, chiefly in the Boulder County area, which represents 5% of PSCo’s customer base. The campaigners had to learn the language of business, but many smaller companies were keen to enjoy the public relations boost that came with the commitment to buy wind energy, and the window sticker that said "This business powered by Colorado wind energy." High profile service businesses such as restaurants, bookstores, coffee houses, microbreweries and sporting goods stores were the most likely to buy wind power, when approached with a letter, a phone call, and then a personal visit. For high density areas such as pedestrian shopping malls, the LAW Fund hired former environmental canvassers who were familiar with cold calling techniques, walking straight in and talking to the manager.

Larger companies required a more deliberate approach. The campaigners would research a company through its website and annual reports, and craft an approach that was consistent with its goals and values. Working with companies that were members of progressive networks such as the EPA’s Pollution Prevention Partnership, or Business for Social Responsibility, proved successful. For the companies, the value of the publicity to be obtained was often a key consideration, which helped to justify the added cost of buying wind energy.

In their approach to residential customers, the campaigners focused on running information tables at community fairs and festivals, shopping malls, natural food markets and farmer’s markets, where they could talk to people individually, and have them sign up on the spot. These were accompanied by presentations to local clubs and organisations, write-ups in the media and in environmental and non-profit organisation newsletters, an active website (www.cogreenpower.org), and a direct-mail campaign to 20,000 households. This produced a response rate of 6%, in a field where a 1% response rate is considered good.

The campaign as a whole was helped by support from then-Governor of Colorado, Roy Romer, who had already formed a Renewable Energy Task Force to explore ways in which Colorado might generate 250 MW of renewable energy by 2005. He purchased wind energy for the Governor’s mansion, installed solar panels on the roof, hosted a press conference to commend PSCo for its initiative, and shone the spotlight on six champions – IBM, US West, Rocky Mountain Steel Mills, Coors Brewing Company, and the cities of Boulder and Denver – for buying wind energy. Each time a town or city decided to buy wind energy for its city operations, there was publicity in the local media, which sustained public awareness of the campaign.

Structure

The foundation of successful community-based marketing is a partnership between a renewable energy provider, and a non-profit environmental or clean energy advocacy group. Government and media support lend added strength to the partnership.

Finance

As a non-profit entity, the LAW Fund runs its programs from a mixture of government, private and foundation support. PSCo was awarded $3.1 million from the US Department of Energy’s Commercial Ventures program, to lower the cost of their wind energy program. At the same time, $70,000 was provided to the environmental community to begin their grassroots marketing campaign. This enabled the LAW Fund to assign a full-time staff person to the project, and develop initial marketing materials. As the program took off, Colorado’s Office of Energy Conservation awarded a series of grants to eight other non-profit organisations, to expand grassroots wind power marketing in other parts of Colorado.

Performance

PSCo’s original goal was to build wind turbines to provide 5 MW of capacity. By April 1999, the LAW Fund had approached 900 businesses, of which 150 (1 in 6) had signed up, generating enough demand for 25 MW of wind energy, five times more than PSCo had planned, and 2.5 times as much as the LAW Fund had been campaigning for in its earlier attempt to oblige the PSCo to produce 10 MW of wind energy. More than 30% of the residential sign-ups and 50% of the business sign-ups came from Boulder County, where they focused their campaign. This represents only 5% of PSCo’s customer base, so it indicates a huge potential. Residential customers represented 61% of the wind energy purchased; small businesses 8%; large businesses 5%, municipalities 4%; and other electric utilities 21%. By April 2001, 20 utilities across the state offered wind power programs similar to PSCo's, and 500 businesses and more than 20,000 residences had signed up. Consumer demand for Colorado's wind power green-pricing programs will lead to a total of 81 MW of wind capacity by 2004.

Future

The grassroots campaign is now extending its reach to promote wind energy in Utah and New Mexico, and to promote solar energy in Arizona. As public awareness grows about the environmental, economic and public health impacts of energy use, more people, businesses and utilities are expected to shift to renewable energy.

For further information contact :

Rudd Mayer
Green Marketing Program Director
Land and Water Fund of the Rockies
2260 Baseline Road, Suite 200
Boulder, Colorado 80302-7740

Tel +1 (303) 444-1188 ext. 227
Fax +1 (303) 786-8054

Email: rudd@lawfund.org
www.cogreenpower.org


Written by Guy Dauncey for The Planning Exchange, Glasgow, Scotland.

guydauncey@earthfuture.com