There are lots of reasons why people look into buying green power for utilities. Many want to do their part to lessen global warming and don’t like the idea of using fossil fuels for everyday needs. Here’s some information that will help you in buying from renewable-energy utility companies.
Basically, the term “green power” is a general phrase that refers to all types of renewable energy, from wind and solar to geothermal power. There are utility companies out there that provide this kind of power to homes, and it’s available to nearly half of all people in the U.S. Not all states allow competition from renewable energy sources, but many do—go to http://www.eere.energy.gov/greenpower/ to find out if yours is one of those states.
There are several different types of green power. Many renewable utility companies will get a certain percentage of their energy from one source, and other percentages from other sources—while some use only one type of renewable energy. Here’s a breakdown of the renewable energy sources currently available.
Wind power is generated from enormous turbines grouped together in “wind farms.” The wind farms hook up to the local power grid, providing energy to the surrounding area. Wind power is a completely renewable and clean energy source, and the turbines don’t have a large footprint—land beneath them is still available for cultivation, and many farmers make extra income by renting space on their property for wind turbines. Still, some environmentalists criticize it because the turbines are considered unsightly and they may be a danger to migrating birds.
Solar power is generated from solar cells that collect the energy from the sun and transform it into electricity. Solar power is non-polluting and releases no greenhouse gases, and solar panels can also be hooked up to homes and offices in order to further lessen their fossil-fuel consumption.
Biomass is power generated from the burning of plants, including wood, paper, or crops grown specifically for the purpose. While biomass is generally cleaner than fossil fuels in that it doesn’t release sulfur dioxide and toxic metals, it does release carbon dioxide—an effect that can be lessened if enough trees are planted to absorb the carbon dioxide production. Some biomass companies burn municipal waste that can release harmful chemicals from plastics and metals. In general, although it’s better than fossil fuels, biomass is not as clean as other renewable resources.
Geothermal energy uses the earth’s heat to produce electricity. A geothermal plant uses water in a pipe system that travels deep into the earth’s crust and then back up, where the plant extracts the heat and converts it into energy. Geothermal plants release only 5% of the carbon dioxide gas emissions, and in a closed-loop system—where the heated water is reinjected into the piping after the heat is extracted—does not produce much waste. An open loop plant, however, can sometimes have waste disposal problems.
Landfill gases refers to the energy harnessed by decaying methane harvested from landfills. Methane release is part of the natural process of decay. However, landfills are so overfilled that the methane release of our country’s landfills contributes significantly to global warming. While the process does release carbon dioxide, it also puts otherwise harmful methane gas to use.
Small or low-impact hydropower uses water to produce electricity. While hydropower is typically not considered environmentally friendly—huge, habitat-destroying dams come to mind—small hydropower is less damaging, because it operates on a smaller scale. Small hydropower typically uses dams to harness the power of falling water, or it diverts the river to flow over turbines that produce energy. While they do have some impact on the environment, they do not have the problems with methane gas emissions from stagnant water in huge reservoirs. They also don’t destroy fish habitat on the same scale as typical hydroelectric power plants.
If you’re interested in green power, there are several ways to buy it. Which one is best for you will depend on your state’s laws and regulations. Here are the most common ways consumers can support green utility power:
Directly from the company. In some states that allow green power to compete directly with traditional utilities, consumers can buy directly from the company—it’s simply a matter of switching from your old company to the new one. Many green companies offer a mix of renewable energy technologies, while some combine a percentage of renewable energy with a percentage of traditional fossil fuels.
Through green pricing. In some states, you can’t actually switch from your regular utility company to one of these green-power companies directly. What you can do instead is participate in “green pricing.” Under this program, you pay a premium on your energy bill—usually about one to ten cents per kilowatt-hour—to pay for your fossil-fuel utility to invest in acquiring renewable energy.
Through green energy certificates. If your state does not allow green energy competition and you can’t participate in green pricing through your regular utility, you can still buy green energy certificates.
To understand green energy certificates, imagine that each kilowatt-hour of energy produced by a power company has a “tag” attached to it. Fossil fuel companies have “dirty” tags, under this concept—and green power companies have “clean” ones.
Basically, each green energy certificate represents a kilowatt-hour of renewable energy. When you buy it, a green power company produces the energy and replaces a kilowatt-hour of fossil fuel energy on the grid. While you may only have access to dirty power, you can still purchase a tag—or certificate—for green power produced outside of your area, thus creating more demand for green power and supporting the industry.
Supporting green power is a great way to do your part to lessen the environmental impact of our energy use. Buy directly if you can. If not, participate in green pricing, and if all else fails, buy green energy certificates. The more people support green power, the greater the demand will be—and the higher the pressure will be on fossil fuel utilities to change.