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Green Electricity Is Here...Why Aren't You Going Green?

Sep 10, 2008
After long wait, the supposed energy "crisis" just might force politicians to finally get us off the Middle Eastern tit of oil. I am going to put myself out on a limb here and say that I actually think the high gas prices are a good thing. While they do leave a pain in the wallet of most American families - mine included - the reality is that the way we Americans seem to learn best is through the wallet.

Take cigarettes, for example. When the cost of a pack of cigarettes became so high that buying them became more than a thoughtless expense, the consumer demand for smokes started going down. How many remember all those surgeon general warnings and studies showing that smoking was bad for us? All the warnings in the world weren't enough to get people to put out their smokes. It wasn't until the cost started to rise that people finally took notice. The point is that money talks when it comes to getting us to make a change, and I firmly believe that the same holds true when it comes to making an energy change.

It didn't take the Japanese long to figure out that Americans make decisions with their wallets. That is precisely why they are building more economical automobiles while providing the level of quality American consumers demand. Thanks to the better leadership of Japanese companies and their desire to invest in energy saving technology, a growing number of Americans are making better energy choices with their wallets. While it may take awhile for us to make the transformation from gas to hybrid technology to sensible ethanol, biomass or hydrogen technology for our transportation, there are choices that Americans can already be making right now in their own homes that can help with the "crisis" we are currently facing.

The facts are simple. The vast majority of electricity comes from coal fired plants, followed by natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric plants. In the future, we can hope that biomass technology will also contribute substantially to electrical production. At present, there are also many wind and solar projects in the works, but there is still a need for a greater amount of change.

Experts agree that most consumers realize global warming is occurring and are at least somewhat aware of the importance of shrinking their carbon footprints. Most think this involves having solar panels on their house and using fluorescent light bulbs. While both are certainly helpful, getting green power is an easier and more effective step to take.

Unfortunately, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that only 700,000 out of 122.5 million American households are buying green power. While it is true that not all households have access to green energy sources, only about 1.8% of those with access to green energy are participating in these programs. Some areas of the country, such as Palo Alto, California in Silicon Valley, are ahead of the curve when it comes to switching to green energy. In fact, the participating rates in this part of the country are at about 20%. Palo Alto is somewhat of an anomaly in that the city is home to a highly educated affluent populace that is receptive to change and innovation. Nearby Santa Clara also has stellar participating rate of about 8.7%.

But, the real question is why aren't more people taking advantage of these programs? The answer is simple: many are not aware that they can actually buy green power.

The Green Power Network, which is run by the department of energy, makes it easy for you to see whether or not you can purchase green power through your local utility company. While there is a small premium for choosing green power, most can easily make up for the extra cost by foregoing their daily super latte from the coffee shop.

Currently, 44 states offer green electrical power to their customers. In order to participate in one of these programs, you simply buy and pay for green power from your usual supplier. For most Californians, this would be either Pacific Gas & Electric or Southern California Edison. Your supplier then applies the amount of power you purchase to the grid system.

Most power companies also sell green "renewable energy certificates," or RECs, separately. RECs represent one megawatt hour( MWh) of renewable energy, which may be produced from solar, wind or other renewable sources. Each MWh you purchase means that one less MWh of the polluting coal variety needs to be produced.

Excluding hydroelectric energy, only about 3% of our nation's energy currently comes from renewable energy sources. In California, the figure is more like 11% and new legislation mandates that utility companies produce 20% energy of their energy from renewable sources by 2010. As you can imagine, the companies are scrambling to sign contracts with renewable energy producers. The reality is that there may not be enough capacity for them to meet the goal by 2010 but, if you ask me, the goal should be higher and the state should be shooting for having 33% of its energy being from renewable sources by 2020. Now, that is a goal that can make a real difference.

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