A Consumer's Guide to Buying Clean Energy
A whopping 68 percent of the electricity used in the United States comes from burning polluting fossil fuels. The rest is created by nuclear power plants and hydropower, with only a tiny fraction coming from clean, renewable resources such as wind, the sun, underground steam and biomass (organic matter that's converted to energy).
But things are changing. Several states now require power companies to produce a percentage of electricity from renewable sources, and others are considering similar requirements.
Renewable energy can save consumers money. Because renewable "fuels" such as sun and wind are free, they reduce the price of wholesale electricity, which lowers electricity bills.
For now, however, buying less-polluting electricity can be a challenge because options differ from state to state. On this page we identify three ways to support renewable energy and also offer a guide to rebates and incentives that may be available to you.
1. Choosing a Clean Power Supplier
Traditionally, electric utility companies have operated as monopolies within particular states. But since 1997, a number of states have opened their electricity markets to competition, giving outside companies, including suppliers that draw all or a significant portion of their power from renewable resources, the right to compete for customers.
To find out when and if you can choose your energy supplier, check the Energy Information Administration's website. Green-e, a green power certification program run by the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions, identifies suppliers in these states that draw at least half their power from wind, solar energy and other clean sources.
Even if you don't live in one of these states you may want to bookmark the Green-e site and check it periodically. Green-e continually tracks and reports on changes in state practices.
2. Green Pricing
In some states, instead of choosing a specific electricity supplier, consumers can support renewable power by paying a premium on their electric bills. This practice is called green pricing. In addition to it's Green-e certification, the Center for Resource Solutions runs a green pricing accreditation program to set standards for green pricing and ensure that utility companies are delivering on their promises to invest in renewable resources.
3. Green Tags and Wind Certificates
Even if neither of the options above is available in your area, you can still support renewable energy. A number of energy suppliers sell carbon offsets, which represent a specific amount of clean power added to the nation's energy grid in place of electricity from fossil fuels. Several reliable groups are developing certification programs to ensure the environmental quality of carbon offests. Visit our guide to choosing carbon offsets for more information.
- Green-e Climate Protocol for Renewable Energy
- California Climate Action Registry
- Northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
last revised 5/15/2008
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