Vote with Your Dollars: Opt for Green Energy

Opt for green energy by choosing to purchase green power from your local utility company.

| April/May 2007

Want to do your part to curb global warming but can’t afford to line your roof with solar panels? The answer could be green power, electricity generated from renewable sources that, unlike oil, the planet has a-plenty.

Though federal energy policy isn’t yet promoting renewables aggressively, public demand for green power is growing. As a result, a new system of buying it, called renewable energy certificates (RECs), has evolved. RECs, which are also called “green tags,” allow consumers to vote with their dollars — choosing to spend more on their electric bills to know that their power comes, at least in part, from clean energy, such as solar or wind.

RECs are the “currency” of the green power industry, according to Lori Bird, co-author of “Green Power Marketing in the United States,” an annual report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). RECs allow consumers to pay a premium price for green power from anywhere in the country. You can buy as much renewable power as you want, from whatever source you prefer.

On average, green power costs about 2.4 cents more per kilowatt-hour (kWh), or roughly 34 percent more, than electricity from nonrenewable sources such as natural gas, coal or nuclear-powered plants, according to NREL. But that premium is coming down; it was 3.5 cents in 2000.

“There were 8.5 billion kWh of renewable energy sold in these voluntary markets in 2005,” Bird says. “That’s up 40 percent from 2004 … and it’s mostly from businesses, universities and federal and state agencies buying them.”

Among them are banking giant Wells Fargo and national grocer Whole Foods, which between them this year committed to buying a billion kWh of green power. They are second only to the U.S. Air Force, which signed up for the largest green power purchase in the country — 1.04 billion kWh — in 2005.

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