In about the time it will take you to read this blog, you can make a phone call or visit a website and switch your home’s electricity to clean, renewably generated power. I’m not talking about installing solar panels – or installing anything – just switching the provider that generates your electricity.
My journey toward a greener life has been full of the unexpected. One of my most exciting discoveries was that I could buy clean power by making a simple phone call. And here’s my email “statement” from Ethical Electric, the company that generates the clean power I now buy:
This little statement makes me happy in an inexplicable way. Electricity is probably the most invisible, taken-for-granted element of daily life (until the power goes out for some reason). Unlike organic food or sustainable fashion, which can deliver both psychic and sensual satisfactions, clean energy itself is exactly the same as dirty energy. All the difference is in the byproducts of production, which takes place miles away, where we never see it.
The challenge for companies like Ethical Electric is to make th0se invisible byproducts matter. It helps to know that electricity consumption is the single largest contributor to our personal carbon footprints, accounting for about 31% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. According to the E.P.A., emissions from electricity generation “have increased by about 11% since 1990 as electricity demand has grown and fossil fuels have remained the dominant source for generation.”
So the 5-minute phone call I made to switch electricity providers was both the easiest and the most impactful step I could take to reduce my personal carbon footprint.
Here’s an interesting thing you can do. Go to the EPA’s “power profiler” (here), enter your zip code and select the name of your electric utility. It will show you how your utility’s standard energy is generated. Here is the profile of the power I turned off when I switched to Ethical Electric:
As you can see, where I live, 24% of our electricity is still generated by burning coal, the dirtiest possible fossil fuel. That’s lower than the national average of 30% because we use an above-average amount of nuclear power. Hmmm …
Most electric utilities allow you to buy power from a whole range of alternative suppliers. Some run on fossil fuels and compete by charging less – I get telemarketing calls from these companies all the time. No matter who generates your power, the utility will continue to deliver the energy to your home. You’ll see on your monthly statement that the charges for generating your electricity and for delivering it to you are separate.
How can you find a good source of clean energy? The E.P.A. publishes a “green power locator” (here). This website lists all of the clean electricity options available to consumers by state. The number of choices is amazing – and they are available to anyone who pays an electric bill, regardless of whether you own your home or rent. My provider, Ethical Electric, is available only in certain states, but others, like Arcadia Power, are available nationally.
You will pay a little more for green electricity. Arcadia Power’s website provides the formula for calculating this additional cost. For example, the 796 kWh my home used on the statement above would cost $11.95 more, if bought from Arcadia’s wind-generation sources rather than the dirty power my utility would otherwise deliver.
I look at it this way: that’s less than a penny per pound of greenhouse gases I that I did not generate last month. And as more of us demand clean power, the costs will keep coming down.
Soon there will be little or no difference at all. As consumers, we have enormous power … if we choose to exercise it. In “The Ecology of Commerce,” one of the cornerstone books on green business, author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken puts it this way: “The cash register is the daily voting booth in democratic capitalism. We don’t have to purchase products that destroy or buy from companies that harm or people who are unresponsive.”
We know that fossil fuel-burning electric utilities are a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that we, as consumers, have an alternative. Even more wonderful, it is unbelievably easy to make that choice (a 5-minute call) and the cost per pound of psychic satisfaction is, shall we say, priceless.
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