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New Website Empowers Consumers to Choose Cleaner Electricity

Environmentalists say renewable energy holds long-term promise to protect the environment, improve electric reliability and cushion price spikes

(September 28, 2000) - A new website offers consumers who are concerned about the environment the information they need to make smart choices of electricity products. The Power ScorecardTM (http://www.powerscorecard.org) starts with the rating of electricity products in California and Pennsylvania, the two states with the most mature retail electricity markets.

According to national surveys, consumers want to purchase electricity with minimal environmental impacts, but they lack credible information upon which to base their decisions. In response to this need, an environmental coalition including Environmental Defense, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Northwest Energy Coalition and the Union of Concerned Scientists developed the Power ScorecardTM, an easy-to-use consumer information tool for rating the environmental impacts of all electricity products. The Power ScorecardTM was developed with the technical support of the Pace Law School Energy Project, which pioneered methods for identifying and quantifying the environmental costs of electricity production, and the Baseline Institute in Lafayette, CO, which developed the Internet web site tools.

"The Power Scorecard makes it easier for Californians to choose cleaner technologies, which have a lower impact on the environment," says Sheryl Carter, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "By doing so, consumers send a message to developers and suppliers that there is demand for greener energy. And as the state's electricity portfolio becomes more diverse and clean, we become less vulnerable to fossil fuel spikes and shortages."

Electricity can be generated from many different sources with vastly different effects on the environment. Sources include fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil; nuclear; hydro; solar; geothermal; biomass; and wind. The Power ScorecardTM rates electricity products "excellent," "very good," "good," "fair," "poor" or "unacceptable" using two measures: 1) the environmental impact on air, land and water, and 2) the amount of energy generated from new renewable, low-impact sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. Environmentalists consider early consumer demand for electricity from new renewable sources to be important because it helps create the financing necessary for the development of even more renewable sources.

"Power Scorecard will give citizens the information they need to purchase environmentally-friendly electricity," says Daniel Kirshner, Environmental Defense senior economic analyst. "This is a key step towards creating a more sustainable power market in the United States that also allows customers to insulate themselves from the highly volatile fossil-fuel-based electricity market."

To see choices and scores of electricity products on the Power ScorecardTM web site, California consumers can simply select the state and service area (Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, or Southern California Edison). They are then presented with a list of electricity suppliers and products, along with the new renewable and overall environmental impact ratings. Clicking on a particular product reveals a report with detailed information on the resource mix, environmental impacts and ordering information. For comparison purposes, the Power ScorecardTM also rates California's overall electricity mix - what you get if you do not choose. Eleven percent of California's electricity mix is produced from renewable sources. While this is cleaner relative to the average mix nationwide, it still rates "poor" in the Power ScorecardTM ratings.

Electricity production has enormous local and global effects on the environment and human health. The burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity is the nation's largest source of air pollution. Power plant emissions contribute to respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cancer. The air pollutants also are a major factor in the destruction of forests and lakes due to acid rain. And fossil fuel combustion is the principal source of greenhouse gases that are the cause of global climate change. Generating electricity with nuclear power produces radioactive waste that must be isolated from the environment for tens of thousands of years. Renewable sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, have a lower impact on the environment.

"Informed consumer choice has the potential to rapidly advance the introduction of the clean energy technologies that will be needed to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century," says Ed Smeloff, Executive Director of the Pace Law School Energy Project. "By dialing up www.powerscorecard.org consumers can see the difference their choices can make."

Only about 1 percent (220,000) of California customers have chosen to switch electricity products. Environmentalists say one reason is because most consumers still don't know they have a choice and another reason is because they don't have adequate information to make consistent comparisons. Nonetheless, more than 85 percent of customers who have made the switch chose a renewables-based product. Environmentalists say the Power ScorecardTM will help more consumers make that choice.

"Choosing cleaner electricity is an easy, practical solution to help clean up the environment and protect future generations," says Alan Nogee, Energy Program Director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Power Scorecard will help people maximize their positive impact."

California consumers can choose among electricity products because of a state law enacted in 1996, which ordered the restructuring of California's electric industry. The electric utilities lost their monopolies and had to sell most of their power plants. The state regulates the operation of transmission facilities, ensuring that the utilities will continue to deliver electricity regardless of who consumers buy it from. Not only are there new companies to choose from, but many offer several different energy mixes, which differ in price and types of resources used to generate electricity.

Twenty-five states are opening their retail electricity markets to competition, and more may follow in the near future. California and Pennsylvania offer the most choices now for small customers. Initially, the Power ScorecardTM evaluates and ranks electricity products offered in California and Pennsylvania. The evaluation will be expanded to additional states as their electricity markets open up to competition and as resources allow.

Additional Contacts: Bill Grant, Izaak Walton League, 651-649-1446; Nancy Hirsh, Northwest Energy Coalition, 206-621-0094; Andrew Altman, Clean Air Council, 215-567-4004 x228

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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