Green Power: Cheap Ways You Can Get It

If you’re looking to reduce the environmental impact of your life, for most people transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. How we get around and between our cities and towns powered by polluting fossil fuels has a massive carbon footprint. Right after that, on the household level, is all the electricity we consume, in most places generated by burning fossil fuels, despite the ongoing progress in installing renewable energy.

But you already knew that, right? And you want to do something about it? If you own your home, putting solar panels on your roof (or on your property…) very well may be the first thing that pops to mind. That’s not a bad route to go down, by any means.

image via Shutterstock

image via Shutterstock

However, what if the price of solar power is too steep for your bank balance to handle, or what if you own an apartment where you don’t actually have any roof space to call your own (that’s me, by the way), or what if you rent? Suddenly it may seem like you’re stuck with pollution. Thankfully that’s not the case. And it’s where green power programs come in.

How You Can Buy Renewable Energy From Your Utility

At one point in the not-so-distant past you were stuck with whatever mix of fuel sources your local utility used to make electricity — but no longer. The US Dept of Energy website’s latest tally shows that more than 850 utilities in the nation have green power pricing, either directly through the utility itself or through a separate energy provider. That is, for a small additional charge per kilowatt-hour of electricity, which varies from program to program, you pay for your electricity to come from a renewable energy source — which varies from place to place, as well as can come from a single source (such as 100% wind power), or from a mixture of sources (for example, 50% small-scale hydropower, 25% wind power, and 25% biomass).

The whole thing is a bit of an abstraction. When you sign up for a green power program, the electricity that comes into your home at any given moment isn’t entirely from renewable energy sources. It’s whatever has been fed into and distributed around the grid at that time (simplistically) — again, in most places, largely fossil fuels. But, what your small additional fee goes to is supporting the specific projects that your specific green power provider is affiliated with.

If you suspect that there are some not-insignificant ‘buts’ in all this, you’re not wrong — and we’ll get to some of those shortly — but if you’re purchasing 100% renewable energy through one of these programs, you can a) genuinely feel good about taking a significant step towards reducing your carbon footprint, and b) know that you’re showing utilities that customers are willing to pay for green power. Even with the abstractions and the ‘buts’, all told it’s a good thing.

Where Can I Find Out What My Options Are & How Much Will It Cost?

Besides the perhaps obvious answer of contacting your utility directly, the easiest way to get an overview of what your options are for purchasing green power is via the DoE’s Green Power Network — where there’s an interactive map detailing your options on a state-by-state basis.

Clicking on my state of New York reveals that, as of the end of 2012, there are 11 different providers of green power in-state, with several offering different mixes of renewable energy at different price points.

Worth noting: Some states have far fewer in-state options (Hawaii, for example, which has only one program pending for homeowners and just on the island of Kauai) and some states have more. New Yorkers actually have it very good when it comes to green power options.

From his home in New York City, Mat McDermott writes about energy and resource consumption, environmental ethics, climate change, issues of animal welfare and animal consciousness, and the response of religious communities to environmental problems. He was editor of business, politics, and energy content for TreeHugger.com from 2008 though 2012. Beyond writing, Mat is an Advisor for The Bhumi Project, a Hindu environmental organization based in the UK, affiliated with the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.