Saturday, February 14, 2009

Clean Up Your Act and Buy Green-e Certified Electricity
If you care at all about the environment, or about the future, for as little as $2.50 a month you can put your money where your mouth is. Most electric utilities offer customers the option of purchasing all or part of their electricity from renewable sources -- most commonly wind, small hydro (<5 MW), geothermal, and biomass -- for a modest cost premium added to your bill.

The utility must then use the extra money you pay them to purchase energy from certified renewable sources. This, in turn, drives up demand for renewables, which yields growth in the green energy industry and new, well-paid, long-term jobs. By the way, in the long run, renewables are cheaper to build and operate than either coal or nuclear, and that comparison does not even include the huge environmental and security costs of coal and nuclear that taxpayers get stuck with. The premium you pay is used to cover the cost of energy purchased from limited renewable sources other than the utility's "conventional," government-subsidized power stations (usually coal or nuclear, sometimes natural gas). Since renewable energy sources are limited, and the "renewable energy credits" (REC's) that your utility purchases are traded on the open market, they cost more. Hence the extra cost to you. But it's worth it because your money is used to directly displace energy from polluting, non-renewable sources.

How do you know your trusted utility will do the right thing with the extra money you give them? That's where Green-e comes in. According to their website:

Green-e is the nation's leading independent consumer protection program for the sale of renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions in the retail market. Green-e offers certification and verification of renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation products. It is a program of the Center for Resource Solutions.

So, Green-e insures that the utility does the right thing and doesn't use your money to buy champagne and Lear jets for the execs.

Here's how a utility's plan typically works:
100 Percent Match

This option enables you to match 100 percent of your monthly electric consumption for 2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The monthly cost is based on the amount of kilowatt-hours used each month, and is in addition to your normal monthly electric charges.

Kilowatt-Hour Block Enrollment

This option enables you to choose a participation level that is right for you and your budget.

As a residential customer, you can purchase a "block' of 100 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy for $2.50 per month. You can purchase up to 10 individual blocks. This monthly cost is in addition to your normal monthly electric charges.

Contact your utility to find out if you can purchase green juice, and get on the right side of the energy issue right now (they usually slip promo ads in with their bills, and you can sign up for Green-e programs on their websites).

I went for the 100% Match option, and it costs me about $5 a month. But, if you can't afford the extra 2 cents/KWH, maybe you can buy a single block each month for $2.50. Every little bit helps. And if you use a lot of electricity, you might be able to conserve a bit and make up for the extra 2 cents/KWH:

  • Turn the AC up a couple of degrees in the summer. Turn it off at night and open the windows. You'll sleep better, feel better, and be healthier breathing fresh air instead of that dust and mold infused air that spills out of most AC ducts.

  • Turn your water heater down a couple of degrees. Whether it's gas or electric, you'll save a few cents each day just by keeping the water a little cooler.

  • Replace your porch light bulb with a compact fluorescent. You don't have to get up on a ladder to change them so often, and they cut your electricity consumption by 75%. While you're at it, replace all the bulbs in your house (or the high-use ones if you are short of cash at the moment) with compact fluorescent -- they pay for themselves in the long run.

  • Sounds obvious, but most people forget: turn off the lights when you leave a room. You can save a lot of juice this way and it requires almost no effort. Same goes for the TV, stereo, and computer -- except these use way more than a light bulb.

  • Unplug wall adapters when they are not being used. If they are required for accessories on a desktop computer, plug them into a power strip, and turn the whole strip off when you shut the computer down (which is whenever you're not sitting in front of it, right?). "Wall warts" use about 10% of the electricity consumed in this country, probably a larger percentage on a household (vs. commercial) basis, which is where most of them are. Shutting them down will save plenty.

Go for it, you can do it. Your conscience will be clearer, and the air will be cleaner -- you and the planet will live a healthier and happier life.

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