When the energy crisis began in 2006 the city of Austin, Texas took a bold step towards a green energy future. The City set up a program in conjunction with its local power utility to enable consumers and businesses to easily sign up and obtain their electricity from renewable energy sources for a small premium. Thousands of people and businesses have made the switch. The rest of the country took note, and now almost all states and many utility companies offer the same option.
How do you get green power to come to your house? Well, you’re not putting windmills on your roof (and presumably not building solar panel plans either) so the connection isn’t direct. Imagine a bathtub full of water, which represents the electricity available in your locality. There are several faucets that drop water into the bathtub, one for each kind of energy. So you have dirty energy faucets such as coal and oil, which until now have been most responsible for the power supply. Another faucet has a little trickle of green energy comprised of solar, wind, biomass, and other renewable sources. As you draw water from the tub it’s replaced by the open faucets, mostly the dirty fossil fuel ones right now. But when you sign up for green energy, you are funding the renewable energy tap and allowing it to open wider. More energy from there means that less energy from the dirty sources is needed to keep the bathtub full. Ideally, hopefully eventually, 100% of the power in the tub will come from the green energy faucet.
So as you can see, your decision to purchase green energy has a direct effect on the country’s efforts to turn to renewable power sources. When you ask for green energy you are helping to fund the creation of new wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy.
How do you sign up? The easiest thing to do is to call your power utility company and ask whether they have an alternative energy program. Many utilities either don’t advertise the option or don’t do so very well, and most people haven’t heard about the availability of this option.
You will pay a premium for renewable energy. On average, green energy is approximately 8-10 cents more more per kilowatt. Usually the bill will come from the same power grid company that you’ve already been paying.
One downside to using the power company’s green energy option is that you may not agree with what they call green energy. Often they will use sources that are indisputably green such as hydro, wind, solar, wave, tidal and geothermal. However, some power grid companies also burn landfill waste or gas and biomass which does contribute to greenhouse gases. These types of energy are alternative and help to lower our dependence on fossil fuel, but it’s questionable whether or not they are considered clean sources. So before you make the switch make sure you agree with the type of clean energy your company uses.
What if you don’t agree? Or how about if you live in a place where the power company can’t offer you green energy? (You might live in a non-participating locality, or perhaps in a highrise with communal energy bills that remove your relationship with the power company.)
Another alternative is to purchase renewable energy certificates (REC’s). I personally use Community Energy for my REC’s and am very satisfied. Basically, you pay $2.50 per block of 10 kilowatt hours that you want to purchase, which represents how much more it would take to get that energy from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels. If the average house uses about 100 KwH per month, for about $25 you can ensure that 100% of your power comes from renewable energy. The money you pay is then invested in energy sources such as wind, allowing that energy to come to market.
Whichever way you decide to go, you can make a big difference for our nation’s renewable energy needs by signing up for and demanding green energy. You pay a small premium, but the environment will thank you.