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Pioneering PSE program lets cities and companies pitch in to build a new wind farm

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MERCER ISLAND, Wash.– A first of it’s kind program from Puget Sound Energy will connect local cities, agencies and companies with renewable energy. Mercer Island is one of four cities that’s helping to fund construction of a wind farm.

“We’re pleased to be a leader in this, it’s something that our citizens we know care about and that we as elected officials care about, too,” says Mayor Bruce Bassett.

The Mercer Island mayor says his city of 23,000 people is greener than you'd think, especially in the past few years. A few years ago there were only a few dozen solar panel installations-- and now there are more than a hundred all installed by businesses and homeowners.

Bassett says almost 10 percent of residents have signed up for the "green power" option with utility Puget Sound Energy -- and now the city government is signing up for renewable energy, too.

Mercer Island is part of a new group of cities, agencies and companies committed to buy green power. It's a pioneering program from PSE called Green Direct.

"We haven't seen this kind of thing before where a group of customers can come together to make a new renewable energy project happen," says Heather Mulligan with the private utility PSE. "[it] gives our customers who are participating a direct link to a new renewable energy project that will be built here in Western Washington, in this case the wind project."

Mercer Island, Anacortes, Bellevue, city of Snoqualmie, Sound Transit, King County, REI, Target and Starbucks. The decade or longer commitment from this group gives Puget Sound Energy the green light to build a brand new 130 megawatt wind farm in Western Washington. PSE says that's enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

"We're seeing a real trends in the corporate world where these big companies want to meet there environmental goals directly with renewable energy," says Mulligan, "but we're also hearing that from municipalities like Mercer Island who have big goals and renewable energy is one way to meet them."

These public and private Green Direct customers get a reliable power rate locked in, something the mayor of Mercer Island thinks long-term will be a good value.

"At the same time that we want to be green, we want to be smart about taxpayer dollars," says Bassett. "We as a city government felt it made sense but in the short term to spend a little bit more. But, particularly when you look at it over time and the fact that it will save the city money over time."

The city of Mercer Island has committed to 20 years with this green power initiative, the longest one currently offered by PSE. Bassett says it's important to stay a leader on environmental issues like this in order to inspire others. "If we can encourage others to to take the same initiative, that's a great thing."

PSE says the new wind farm is being permitted in Western Washington, likely in Lewis County. The utility runs three other wind farms here in the Pacific Northwest. It's expected to be completed in 2019.