Golden, Colorado [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Green power programs run by utility companies are starting to come into their own as energy production measures. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released its annual ranking of leading utility green power programs based on total sales of renewable energy to program participants, total number of customer participants, customer participation rate, and the lowest price premium charged for a green pricing service using new renewable resources.“Customer participation in utility green power programs continues to grow across the country,” said Lori Bird, senior energy analyst at NREL. “These utilities are the national leaders.” Under voluntary green power programs, consumers can choose to help support additional electricity production from renewable resources such as solar and wind. Nearly 600 utilities in 34 states now offer these programs. Customer choice programs continue to be a powerful stimulus for growth in renewable energy supply. In 2004, sales of renewable energy through utility green power programs continued to exhibit strong growth, reaching 1.9 billion kWh, according to NREL. Utility green pricing programs are one segment of a larger green power marketing industry that counts more than one-half million customers nationwide and helps support more than 1,600 MW of renewable electricity generation capacity. NREL also found that several large utilities have lowered the rate premium charged in green pricing programs. “Purchases of renewable energy through utility green power programs are becoming increasingly affordable for consumers” said Blair Swezey, NREL principal policy advisor. He cited the improving economics of tapping renewable energy sources compared to traditional fossil fuels as a primary factor. Ranked by sales of green power, the green power program of Austin, Texas Energy is first in the nation, followed by Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp, the Sacramento, California Municipal Utility District, and Xcel Energy. Ranked by customer participation rates, the top utilities are municipal utilities in Lenox, Iowa; utilities in the City of Palo Alto, California; Iowa-based Municipal Light & Power and Holy Cross Energy of Colorado, Moorhead Minnesota Public Service, and Sacramento Municipal Utility District.