Have you asked yourself, "What is Green Energy?" Most big utilities are now offering the ability to purchase "green" energy, but what does that really mean? How do you know you aren't just buying "dirty" energy and it's getting called green? Today I signed up for a "block" of green energy from my utility, Georgia Power. While I've known about the program for awhile I've always been hesitant to jump in because I wasn't sure how helpful it would be, but I think participating is the right decision, and here's why:
- Purchasing green energy from your utility means your utility can purchase green energy from alternative energy resources. Without consumer demand, utilities would not buy this power, and the alternative resources would not exist.
- Purchasing green energy is a way of making a statement to your utility that you support a clean energy future. Think of it as a vote to support clean energy.
- While you can't actually touch it, purchasing green power is a way to put your money with your mouth is. If you support clean energy then you are smart enough to know it costs a little more than dirty energy. Quit asking for clean energy if you aren't willing to pay for it. Walk the Walk...
Signing up for Green Energy
What surprised me about my foray into green power is that it really isn't that expensive. In my case, I have the option to purchase "blocks" of green energy. Georgia Power defines a block as 100 kWh and a block costs either $3.50 for Biomass green power or $4.50 for Biomass and Solar green power, plus tax. This amount is added to my monthly bill. I signed up for 1 block of the Biomass/Solar green energy, so each month $4.50 (plus tax) will be added to my bill. I could have signed up for more, but I'll wait until my next pay raise :) Also, I'm not sure what happens if you bought more blocks than you consume...
So what am I really paying for?
When I pay $4.50 for a block (100 kWh) of green energy each month this does not mean that the first 100 kWh of energy I consume is getting piped in from solar panels or wind turbines. Nothing actually changes to the electrons entering my house. They are coming from the same place they came from before I purchased a block of green power (probably the coal plant across the street). What my purchase means is that basically I am funding alternative energy generation, and Georgia Power is acting as the power broker. The organization Green-e certifies that Georgia Power is actually using the money it collects for green energy and not for stuff like toga parties or hunting trips.
The Georgia Power (I'm only using them as an example. If your utility has a green energy program it probably works the same way) Green Energy program is basically a pool of individuals (you and me) who put their money together (by purchasing blocks) and then Georgia Power takes that money and either builds alternative energy power production (by funding landfill gas to energy projects) or purchases power from alternative energy installations (ei. from solar panels on residential roofs).
For example, in January of 2009 I consumed 501 kWh of electricity. If I had purchased a block of the biomass/solar green energy in January, one-fifth of the power I consumed that month would have been certified by Green-e to have come from an alternative energy source.
Or, I can look at it another way. If a block of biomass/solar green energy costs $4.50 for 100 kWh, that's essentially saying that 1 kWh of green energy adds 4.5 cents to my cost of electricity. I currently pay around 10 cents per kWh for my "dirty" energy, so I will gladly pay 14.5 cents per kWh for "clean" energy.
Some people feel that this is cheating and that they would rather know that the electrons entering their house are directly produced by alternative energy generation. To them I say, "Great, go for it!". But that usually requires up-front capital and not everyone (including yours truly) has that cash right now. So until I get to that point where I can install a Solar PV system on my roof, this is the best way I know to show my utility that I support a clean energy future and enable them to invest in alternative energy.