I often get asked what the simplest thing anyone can do to clean up their power situation is and of course, the first answer I give people is to simply use less. Turn your lights off, unplug your phantom power suckers, turn your thermostat up/down a few degrees and you’ll not only save some money, but you’ll be limiting demand for power from the utilities, much of which in the U.S. still comes from dirty sources.
For those who want to do something more, the next thing I ask is if they have ever considered buying green power. I’m often surprised at how few people know about this, many of whom even have it as an option from their local provider. Buying green power to me is a no-brainer–it costs relatively little, and if everyone were involved, it would have a tremendous impact. Electricity generation is currently the largest industrial pollution contributor in the U.S., mostly coming from coal, nuclear and oil, so flipping these sources to renewable, sustainable sources would mean a huge difference in our impact on the planet.
Essentially there are three ways to purchase green power. The first option, and probably the simplest, is Green Pricing. Simply put, your utility may offer the option of “going green” which may either mean a flat fee added to your bill, or a small adjustment for each kilowatt hour used. Every utility varies and your best bet is to contact yours to see how they charge. My utility charges us about $6 a month extra, and that money goes towards offsetting the greater cost of renewable energy where it is available. While green pricing isn’t available everywhere, you can check here to see if it is an option for you.
Now don’t get me wrong, the electrons flowing into my house haven’t changed a bit. But for the cost of a morning cup of coffee and a muffin, I’ve allowed the power company to purchase renewable energy at the same price as they would normally buy dirty energy. Essentially, I’ve eliminated my need for dirty power and cleaned up the grid a bit, all at the same time.
Your next option is called Green Marketing. Basically, there are a few states, mostly in the northeast, that allow you to choose who you get your energy from. So, just like you choose who your long distance carrier is by the benefits and service they offer, you can choose your energy provider by how clean their energy is. The nice thing about Green Marketing is that the energy you are buying may cost slightly more, but it’s actually coming from green power.
Finally, for those who live somewhere where Green Pricing or Green Marketing aren’t an option, you can purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) otherwise known as green tags. These essentially accomplish the same thing as Green Pricing by allowing you to buy credits that will help offset green power elsewhere so that the amount you are using from a dirty source can be purchased elsewhere from a clean source. You can find out more on where to buy RECs here.
Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that there aren’t a lot of folks out there who think this is a sham and may scream “CARBON OFFSETS” and run screaming into the night. But after a long talk with the green rep at my power utility, I was convinced. He explained to me where my money was going, where they buy their renewable energy, and assured me of future renewable energy projects that were in the works, so I know my money is going to something useful. I would advise anyone interested in any of these ideas to call your power provider and ask them some hard questions about their green power program, including if they are certified by a group like Green-e or any other independent organization.
The bottom line of all this for me though is this. Imagine if every household and every business (businesses can do this too, by the way) were to spend a small amount extra every month in order to insure that their energy was being produced cleanly and responsibly. And then imagine if all those households and all those businesses sent a letter to their representatives in Congress telling them that they were willing to spend a little bit more to end dirty energy. And imagine if, in those letters, all those households and all those businesses assured those representatives that unless green energy was at the forefront of their upcoming agendas, they weren’t going to be receiving many votes come November. Imagine what effect that would have.
Can I control what everyone else does? No. But I can control what I do and I choose to put my money where my mouth is and let my representatives know about it.
How about you?
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”