In about the time it will take you to read this story, you can make a phone call or visit a website and switch your home’s electricity to clean, renewable solar or wind power. I’m not talking about installing solar panels – or installing anything – just switching the source of the power your electric utility delivers to your home (or your apartment or office).
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 incredibly easily. I don’t have to change my lifestyle, I just have to change the supplier that generates the power I buy from my electric utility.
And here’s my email “statement” from CleanChoice Energy, the company that generates the clean power I 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). Unlike organic food or sustainable fashion, which can deliver both psychic and sensual satisfactions, clean energy itself works exactly the same way dirty energy works. All the difference is in the byproducts of production, which takes place perhaps hundreds of miles away, where we never see it.
The challenge for companies like Ethical Electric is to make those 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 is 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 power I turned off when I switched to CleanChoice Energy:
Where I live, 24% of the electricity our utility delivers to most homes and offices is still generated by burning coal, the dirtiest possible fossil fuel. That’s lower than the national average of 30%, but only because we use more nuclear power than the national average. Hmmm … methinks a change is in order …
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, your current utility will continue to deliver it 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 office) 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, but that premium will decrease over time. (How much more depends on what your utility charges you.) And as more clean power sources are built, and more of us demand clean power, the costs will come down. Soon there will be little or no difference at all.
As consumers, we have enormous power. It’s been said that the cash register is the daily voting booth in our economy. Every purchase we make supports one kind of economy or another. Your energy choice has the greatest environmental impact of any purchase you make – and making it right is so easy!
Share this on social media: