Monday, January 23, 2006

What's this about renewable energy?

by KEN SHEINKOPFKnight Ridder Newspapers
This story ran on on Saturday, January 21, 2006 12:25 AM CST

"I received a flyer with my utility bill last month saying I could pay an extra $3 on my future bills to get electricity generated by renewable energy. What's this all about?"You're probably wondering why someone would voluntarily pay extra on their utility bill and not receive anything direct for it. Well, it might surprise you to learn that there are currently more than 330,000 utility customers in 34 states who have signed up to do just this.

These people are participating in what are called "green power" programs -- a term that refers to electricity that is either partially or fully generated from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal or other forms of environmentally-friendly renewable energy. These voluntary consumer purchases have been around since the early 1990s when some utilities started offering opportunities for their customers to help finance the use of renewable energy to help bring "green" energy to their communities. Today more than 600 utility companies have some type of green power program, giving more than half of all U.S. consumers an opportunity to buy green power from an electricity provider.You can get a complete list of all green power options available in your state at

You'll find the names of all utility programs in the country, links to the program information, and the types of renewable resource they use. You'll also find details of available renewable energy certificate programs, another form of buying green energy that is available to all U.S. consumers regardless of specific utility programs offered in their state. These certificates represent the "green" attributes of electricity that come from renewable energy projects.While only about 2 percent of the country's electricity comes from green power, these voluntary utility programs are helping to stimulate the development of more renewable energy projects.

The 600 utilities currently offering programs are providing more than 3 billion kWh of green power annually -- enough to power 300,000 homes every year.People participate in these programs because they know their small monthly investment is helping utility companies develop renewable energy resources -- energy sources that will help meet future energy demands while helping keep our environment clean. Current programs typically allow consumers to choose to help support either a percentage of their electricity use or to buy blocks of renewable energy at a fixed price. Costs to the consumer average around 2 cents per kWh.

Examples of some of the programs offered today include Alabama Power Co.'s "Renewable Energy Rate" which offers customers the opportunity to pay $6 additional each month for power generated by Alabama-grown switchgrass; Austin Energy's "GreenChoice" program that lets customers choose to receive 100 percent renewable energy generated from wind and landfill resources; a program by Colorado Springs Utilities that offers a wind power option at $3 per 100-kWh; a Golden Valley Electric Association in Alaska program that lets customers pay a small monthly fee to support the development of local renewable energy projects, and programs at Lower Valley Energy in Wyoming and Idaho that lets offers customers 300-kWh blocks of green power generated by wind and other regional programs for $3.50 each month.

If you're willing to spend a few dollars extra each month to help your utility company develop clean renewable energy sources for current and future generation of electricity, programs like these let them pool lots of small donations into amounts that can really make a difference. It's easy to participate in these programs, and the environmental and economic benefits will be around for a long, long time.

It's the same reason why people like me and thousands of others have bought hybrid cars. They'll probably never make economic sense for us because of their higher purchase price, but driving them will help keep our air cleaner for future generations.

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