The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves 1.7 million water customers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, has signed a deal to buy a third of its electricity from a Pennsylvania wind farm, making it one of a growing number of large energy users to seek out green sources.
The electricity will be provided by a subsidiary of Baltimore's Constellation Energy Group, which has a 10-year deal to purchase all of the power produced by the wind farm. Edison Mission Group is building the wind farm in Somerset County in southwest Pennsylvania. The farm is expected to be completed in January 2008.
Sanitary commission officials said the agreement would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower the water and sewer utility's energy costs by an estimated $20 million over 10 years. It will make the commission the largest local government user of renewable energy in the United States, based on data of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency said.
"This initiative benefits our customers in many ways," said Andrew D. Brunhart, the sanitary commission's general manager. "Wind power saves our ratepayers money on energy costs and improves air quality by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment."
Advocates point out that wind power is the second-fastest-growing source of new electric generation, and there is evidence that big users are seeking out more green energy as the cost of procuring it declines. Currently, there are no wind farms in Maryland.
Historically, renewable power sources have been more expensive than conventional alternatives, providing a barrier to their widespread use. Large companies such as Wells Fargo & Co. and Starbucks are among those that have sought to buy wind power as more turbines come online.
Constellation Energy has a long-standing relationship with the sanitary commission through Constellation Energy Projects & Services, a subsidiary that provides consulting services. A second Constellation subsidiary, Constellation NewEnergy, recently won a bid to buy the energy produced from the wind farm being developed by Edison Mission.
Wind power accounts for a small portion of Constellation's total energy portfolio, but that is changing as customers demand it and government regulations call for the use of more renewable energy.
"Renewable energy is a priority for our company and it's a priority for our customers, and we are always in the market for these kinds of agreements," said Lawrence McDonnell, a spokesman for Constellation.
The sanitary commission will purchase 85 percent of the wind farm's expected output of about 30 megawatts of electricity. One megawatt is enough to power nearly 1,000 average homes. Constellation will sell the remaining 15 percent to other buyers looking to tap into clean energy sources.
Electricity from the wind farm will be dispatched to the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland power grid, which serves as the air traffic controllers of electricity for 13 states and the District of Columbia. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission gets its power through the PJM grid. Its purchase of wind power will help displace energy produced with conventional fuels in the PJM region.