How To Green Your Energy

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.”

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Ayo Maat6 years ago

One in five people in the USA are disabled. The Green Fest in Chicago is the only one within the green movement besides the Green Think Tank for the Disability Community that touches on the need to green the disability community!! We probably cause more phantom power drain than any other group, but we have to be able to see, charge our battery-operated devices and access our electrical devices. More people should talk nationally on how to help people who are disabled reduce their energy use and convert to renewable sources for wheelchair batteries, paratransit van pools run by people who are disabled, electrical medical devices and appliances, and other daily assistive technology. We can find a way to reduce the size of the grid and battery packs similar to what has been done for cell phones, PCs, laptops, and other devices that use microchips to make solar-powered wheelchairs, medical devices, appliances, and accessible vans for most people who are disabled(PWD), seniors, and medically fragile people. That means make them affordable, available locally, and not hard to order. Join Green Think Tank for the Disability Community and let's come up with solutions, green collar jobs and green entrepreneurship for PWD. We are "not dead yet." Many of us have expertise and others want to learn. Email or leave comment for Maat if you would like to be on the teleconference call Thu. April 30 11:30am-12:15 pm CDT or email

Rodrigo Ibarra
Rodrigo Ibarra6 years ago

There are many things to do about this issue. Many supermarket chains must turn to sustainable energy. Of course, this decision represents a huge investment, but with good planing and a long term strategy sustaniable technologies can be very profitable. In adition, marketplaces can improve actions to reduce energy consumption impact: using revealed roofs, using water recycling systems, anaerobic fermentation to produce biogas and use cogeneration systems, thermal exchange systems to reduce CO2 and greenhouse emissions, and many other non expensive actions. Obviously, multi and transnational companies must understand their responsabilities with society and whole environment.

Emma Schwab
Emma Schwab6 years ago

Maybe someone here can answer this question for me. I've often wondered why large shopping centers: malls, grocery stores, wal-marts, and the like, don't put up solar panles on their roofs. Every center that I've seen like this has a HUGE amount of space on their roofs that are mostly unused except to house their climate control units.

If these stores are in an area of the nation that has quite a bit of sunlight, wouldn't it be worth it to the store, both economicly (lower power bills) and publicly (look, we went green!) to do something like this?

Teresa T.
Teresa T.6 years ago

Thanks for the info. We already purchase some "green pricing" credits, and may increase the amount. I agree with the posters who asked why all new construction isn't required to be built with renewable energy (wind/solar) in the design. There should also be very strict energy efficiency standars for every building built.

Brian R.
Brian R.6 years ago

why not talk about buying renewable energy systems and not pay any money at all for your energy bill. You can receive money from your energy company for putting "green energy" back into the grid for other people to use. That way we can lower the price for green energy for other people that can't yet afford the systems, until it's cheaper than "dirty energy".

Muthuswami Jayaram

It will be a wonderful idea if the municipality(or whichever authority) that approves the plan for building a new building comes forward to subsidise the extra cost for installing solar panel/wind energy system. Even existing residents who opt for clean/renewable energy systems may be rewarded with subsidies to encourage use of clean, renewable energy.
Chennai, India.

Muthuswami Jayaram

It will be a wonderful idea if the municipality(or whichever authority) that approves the plan for building a new building comes forward to subsidise the extra cost for installing solar panel/wind energy system. Even existing residents who opt for clean/renewable energy systems may be rewarded with subsidies to encourage use of clean, renewable energy.
Chennai, India.

Sustainable Dave
Dave Chameides6 years ago

Hey Bobby,
I've often wondered for a long time why homes in places like southern california, where it's sunny all the time, are not required to be built (I'm talking new homes here) so they can generate at least 40% of their energy at the source. This would be a fraction of the cost of the new house, would pay for itself in the long run, would lessen the stress on the grid, and would actually help limit the sprawl of mcmansions. 40% is somewhat arbitrary but i've floated this idea out there and haven't heard many convincing arguements against it.

Pamela C.
Pamela C.6 years ago

Very interesting. I followed the link to the Dept. of Energy green pricing, but my company isn't listed; I'm going to have to call them and do some research. Thank you for the thought-provoking article and another energy alternative to consider.

Bobby J.
Bobby J.6 years ago

Why aren't all new homes being built with a windmill and solar panels? It would be much cheaper and simpler than overhauling our entire power grid also our power supply (as a whole) would not be as susceptible to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.