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Why buy renewable energy?

Wind turbine 2.jpgIf “renewable energy” makes you think of installing a wind turbine in your backyard, think again! There are ways of purchasing renewable energy without necessarily installing it directly on-site. And for those of you who think wind turbines are a blight on our landscape, I have to ask—would you rather have a power plant in your backyard? But I digress…

Did you know you may be able to buy renewable energy directly from your utility company? Also known as “clean” or “green” energy, renewable energy is electricity supplied entirely or in part from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower. Buying renewable energy helps put non-polluting forms of energy in the energy stream. To learn more about the benefits, go to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s web site provides or if you’d like to see the environmental impact of different energy products, check out the Power Scorecard.

There are basically three types of green power: renewable electricity, renewable energy certificates (RECs), and on- site renewable generation. Renewable electricity is generated using renewable energy resources and delivered through the utility grid. REC’s (also known as tradable renewable certificates, green tags, or green energy certificates) represent the environmental, social, and other positive attributes of power generated by renewable resources (such as carbon off-setting). On-site renewable generation is electricity generated using renewable energy resources at the end-user’s facility (solar panels or a wind turbine). The first two, and really, the first, is the one most easily available to most of us (though of course, you can install the wind turbine too!). Here’s how to do it:

  • If retail electricity competition is allowed in your state, you may be able to purchase green power from an alternative supplier. Even if that’s not the case, you may still be able to purchase it through your utility company. Many utilities have “green pricing” programs, where you can pay a premium on your utility bill to support the generation of renewable energy sources. Go to SmartPower, select your state and see what forms of “clean energy” are available in your area. Also, check out the Database of State incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for potential incentives related to green energy in your state .
  • Cost will vary based on factors such as availability of subsidies in your state, market price of conventional electricity, and availability and quality of the renewable energy sources. The DOE’s web site can also offer more guidance on buying clean energy.
  • If in doubt about the “green” power supplier, ask the company if they are “Green-e” certified. Green-e is a non-profit that reviews suppliers and certifies clean energy products; certification is voluntary, but they have certified over 100 companies across the country, so there should be one in your area. RECs are certified by the Environmental Resources Trust through its EcoPower certification program.

And don’t forget: the more you can reduce your energy consumption, the less energy you will need to buy overall, so first and foremost, improve your energy efficiency and find ways to conserve energy!