|By Sudeep Reddy, The Dallas Morning News
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 19, 2005 - Two area Hyatt Regency hotels are going entirely green for their electricity, becoming the largest business customer in Texas to buy all of its power from pollution-free sources.
The renewable energy agreement represents a leap forward in the business market for Austin-based Green Mountain Energy Co., a privately held firm that sells electricity generated from wind, water, the sun and other renewable sources.
The two hotels, owned by Hunt-Woodbine Realty Corp., will pay more for their electricity by using Green Mountain. But they plan a widespread marketing effort -- through guest rooms, brochures and hotel employees -- to appeal to consumers' environmental soft spots.
"There is a social value that can be given back to the customer just knowing we're doing it," said Steve Vissotzky, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion.
Pollution-free power plans in deregulated areas of Texas cost residential consumers more than most other options, though some plans sell at prices offered by incumbents such as TXU Energy.
In the commercial market, Green Mountain says it has signed up thousands of smaller customers -- those that use less than 50 megawatt-hours annually -- for 100 percent renewable plans.
The two hotels, Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion and Hyatt Regency DFW International Airport, will buy a combined 34 million kilowatt-hours of power a year, making them the fourth-largest purchaser of renewable power in the state.
The deal will allow Green Mountain to promote its electricity plans through messages on hotel televisions and cards inside rooms. The company also plans to promote the hotels to its electricity customers.
"Talking about clean electricity is good for business," said John Savage, Green Mountain's senior vice president of marketing. "You would not expect to see a co-marketing initiative where someone's telling their customer they're buying coal or nuclear power."
Two public entities rank first and second in annual renewable power purchases. Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene buys all its power from renewable sources, and the Austin Independent School District uses green power for about 30 percent of its needs.
Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. buys about 36 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, but that represents about 13 percent of its total consumption.
Austin Energy, a municipal utility that serves the Austin school district and AMD, has signed up major business customers for years by pitching fixed-cost contracts for the renewable piece of a customer's electricity portfolio.
The utility also promotes its commercial green power users through billboards, television and newspaper ads and listings in customer newsletters.
Business customers that sign up with the utility also can receive rebates for upgrades that improve energy efficiency, offsetting the higher cost.
"Fuel charges have been increasing steadily," Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark said. "What we've tried to do is give companies a hedge against fossil fuels."
Mr. Savage of Green Mountain said some contracts for commercial customers, which generally go through a competitive bidding process, have come in at the lowest price or only 1 percent to 2 percent more than the next-closest price.
The company recently signed Hillwood Development Corp., led by Ross Perot Jr., to buy power for its business parks and Alliance Airport from entirely renewable sources.
Other companies that sign up for a higher-priced plan often promote their decision through storefront signs and company brochures.
The Hyatt deal includes a wider campaign to promote Green Mountain plans to about 1,000 hotel employees in addition to guests in the nearly 2,000 rooms at the hotels.
"There's nobody out there that would look at this as a bad thing," Mr. Vissotzky said. "It's a good thing, and it's a responsible thing."
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