Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Eleven percent of PGE's residential customers in Wilsonville purchase renewable wind energy.Wilsonville City Councilors voted unanimously Monday to join the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Community program.

The move, which will bring marketing and promotional benefits to the city amid a push to enroll more clean power customers, may be more symbolic than anything else. Yet, supporters say, there will be concrete benefits for both Wilsonville and the wider community.

“This is a way to help mitigate the footprint the city has created by making sure they use a more responsible source of electricity,” said Josh Halley, a renewable power manager with Portland General Electric. “And that’s the primary motivator for those in the program.”

PGE has worked with the EPA’s Green Power Community program for nearly two decades now, bringing marketing and promotional benefits for the cities involved.

Wilsonville’s addition would bring the total number of participating Oregon cities to 12, the most of any state. For comparison, there are just 53 Green Power communities nationwide.

Green Power Communities are jurisdictions in which local government, businesses and residents collectively use green power in amounts that meet or exceed the program’s purchase requirements. For a city of Wilsonville’s size and electricity consumption that means local government must purchase at least five percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

A combined three percent of residential and business customers must do the same.

At present, Wilsonville easily surpasses those numbers: 11 percent of PGE’s residential customers purchase renewable wind energy, said Halley. As such, the council chose to enlist the city in the program at the “Gold” level, which requires at least 6.9 percent of the city's electricity consumption be comprised of renewable power. It will cost the city an additional $205 per month to take part, or just shy of $2,470 annually.

The city’s municipal apparatus itself used roughly 11.9 million kilowatt hours of power in the 12-month period from June 2013 through June 2014. To meet program requirements, the city must now ensure at least 821,100 kilowatt hours come from PGE’s Clean Wind sources to meet the 6.9 percent threshold.

When Wilsonville joins the program, PGE also plans to undertake a community-wide “Green Power Challenge” campaign to increase awareness and support by signing up an additional 200 residents and 20 businesses to use clean power.

“We get out and talk to the community in a focused effort,” Halley told the council. “We provide a facilitation role. I want to emphasize, this is something Wilsonville could do on its own. But we’ve had success with the program and we’re familiar with it.”

Using PGE contractor Green Mountain Energy, the utility will now send representatives around the Wilsonville community, likely in March, as part of a sign-up campaign encouraging PGE customers to switch to clean power generated by wind and other renewable sources. Doing so means about a six percent increase in the average residential power bill, Halley said.

“Are there things, that if we did this, would help create more momentum that would drive down the cost of clean energy for everyone? Or does it not work that way?” asked Councilor Scott Starr.

Halley said increases in wind power infrastructure in the Northwest in recent years have had that effect, including a 33 percent drop two years ago in the price of Clean Wind electricity. But linking those types of figures to specific programs is not something he is comfortable with, he added.

“It’s very difficult to make a direct correlation with a program like this,” he said. “We have seen that in the industry in the Northwest, but it’s not something I’m willing to guarantee personally.”

Nonetheless, he added, renewable energy looks set to continue growing in the future.

“It’s not something I’m willing to guarantee there will be a certain number of jobs created in the area,” Halley said. “But we have seen phenomenal growth, and in the wind industry in particular.”

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