DENVER (AP) -- With a gentle breeze blowing, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced the biggest-ever federal contract for ''green power'' on Thursday.
All the federal agencies based in the Denver area have agreed to buy 10 megawatts of power a year from wind farms operated by Public Service Co. of Colorado and other utilities, Richardson said. That's enough energy to supply 3,500 households or drive cars 54 million miles for a year.
''We believe this is the single largest purchase of green power ever by federal agencies,'' said Richardson, who last week ordered his agency to make sure it buys at least 7.5 percent of its power from renewable sources.
He wants to double the portion of the nation's power generated by wind to 5 percent by the year 2020, an initiative that has the support of President Clinton. The cost of wind power has already come down from 40 cents a kilowatt in 1980 to about a nickel.
Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, said, ''As far as we aware this is the biggest single customer purchase of wind energy that we've ever seen in the U.S.''
He added, ''We're very excited about the leadership that Secretary Richardson and the Department of Energy have shown in the Colorado region.'' The Denver-area has one of the largest concentrations of federal employees in the nation.
Richardson said the wind power will cost about 2 percent more than that generated by conventional means, but the cost is offset by reduced pollution and less dependence on foreign oil.
''I spent the last two months flying around the OPEC countries trying to get gas prices down. The message here is that we cannot be dependent on foreign oil. We cannot be dependent on OPEC,'' he told group of federal employees assembled for the announcement.
The United States now imports 53 percent of its petroleum, he said, more than during the Arab oil embargo of 1973.
''I think we should be proud of what we are doing today,'' he said, adding the U.S. government is the biggest power consumer in the world. Because it spends $8 billion a year on power, it has the clout to promote the development of renewable energy.
''The interest on the part of our customers has exceeded our expectations,'' said Chuck Fuller of Public Service Co. of Colorado, which began developing the first commercial wind farm three years ago. Fifteen-thousand customers have signed on, and there is a waiting list of potential new users once additional wind power becomes available, he said.
Richardson's agency gave Public Service a $3 million grant to help develop its Ponnequin wind farm near the Wyoming border. The farm's 15 turbines, each with 900-pound, 32-foot-long blades, reach 26 stories into the sky, and six more are being built.
The power is delivered into the regional power grid. Wind power users don't get their energy directly from the site, but through the grid. They agree to be billed extra to pay the added cost of wind-generated energy.
U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said polls show 80 percent of Americans would buy renewable power if it was available. Richardson saw no contradiction in the nation's seeming love for gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles.
''We need to conserve energy better, but we can do it without asking people to sacrifice. We can make SUVs that get 40 miles-per-gallon, 80 miles per gallon,'' said Richardson.
On the Net:
http://www.awea.org/default.htm for the American Wind Energy Association.
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