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WHAT IS GREEN POWER?

Green Power, or Green Energy is electricity that is environmentally preferable by virtue of the energy resource used to produce it.

"Environmentally preferable" can mean different things to different people, but there are some basic concepts which have gained currency for defining Green Power, as well as common pitfalls confronted when trying to navigate through terms and technologies.

Green Power vs. Green Marketing

Most consumers will first hear about "green" technologies through marketing pitches from power companies. Therefore, it's important to first distinguish between Green Power and Green Marketing.

Green Marketing is an attempt to characterize a product as being environmentally friendly. In some cases, a company may sell itself as environmentally friendly but the product being sold may not be - such as when a telemarketer donates a portion of its revenues to progressive causes, even though it makes no claim or effort to assure that the product being sold is environmentally friendly.

In the marketing of electricity, terms such as "green" and "clean" might be used liberally - but they should not always be taken literally. There is not yet a clear-cut and universally accepted definition of Green Power. Marketers must still comply with basic federal and state regulations for truth in advertising as monitored by the Federal Trade Commission and state ordinances, but enforcement actions from these agencies cannot always capture false or deceptive claims.

Green Power standards are emerging from collaborative processes in many states involving stakeholders from the environmental and public health communities, power marketers and state regulators. In California and other states where deregulation is well advanced, the Green-e Renewable Electricity Branding Program is providing detailed information and a label of certification for electricity products that demonstrate they meet agreed-upon environmental standards. Consumers will also need to scrutinize disclosure statements on marketing materials that make environmental claims for the impacts and benefits of a product.

While all sources of electricity cause at least some environmental disruption, the key difference between electricity sources is the relative harm caused by each one. For example, converting certain fuels into energy causes widespread environmental damage and can pose real risks to human health - such as when electricity is produced by nuclear power plants or through the burning of coal or oil. It would be deceitful to describe these methods as "green."

Most energy experts and environmental advocates consider converting renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass as the most clearly deserving of the green label. These power sources cause relatively few environmental impacts and pose a low risk to human health.

Green Technologies

Some environmental advocates look favorably on low-impact HYDROELECTRIC facilities. Hydropower converts a renewable resource - river flows - into electricity and does not emit any air pollution. Judging the way a hydroelectric dam affects a river is important to determining whether it qualifies as a "green" source of power. High-impact hydro projects cause concern because dams can change natural river flows, degrade water quality and block fish migration. The size of the dam is not the only criteria for judging high vs. low impact. Mitigation measures such as fish ladders that protect spawning and the choice of a hydro facility's location are critical features. Hydropower currently provides about 10 percent of the electricity generated in the United States - a percentage unlikely to increase dramatically, both because few new sites remain for the construction of large dams and because of general opposition to building large new facilities on environmental grounds.

Other advocates also look favorably upon the new generation of NATURAL GAS-fired power plants called combined cycle combustion turbines. These plants are very efficient and only produce a fraction of the air pollution of other types of fossil-fuel fired power plants. Other advocates do not consider this a "green" technology because the exploration for and extraction of natural gas can severely damage ecosystems, and the burning of natural gas does emit carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.

Buying Green Power

Some people may believe that by specifying their preference for Green Power they will get power exclusively from renewable sources. It doesn't quite work that way - although you can still buy "green" even though you can't specify which electrons flow into your home or business.

To understand this concept, think of your local electricity grid as a reservoir, river or lake with many sources. Power generators pour energy into the reservoir and customers draw it out. A mix of energy sources go into the reservoir - but when consumers choose to buy "green," they increase the ratio of renewable energy sources in the power pool. In this way, decisions to purchase Green Power change the overall mix of electricity being generated and encourage more investment in renewables.

Green Regulation

State and federal governments are considering a variety of policy measures to respond to the public concerns over the potentially adverse effects that electricity restructuring may have on the environment. Most policies are incentives or regulations that encourage the use of renewables. They differ from place to place and have so far had varying degrees of success. Some of these policies include:

An Historic Opportunity

The choices being made now about electricity - by your family, business and government - will affect the way service is delivered for years to come. This presents an opportunity to use your power to choose, your power to vote and your power to persuade. Demand green energy choices and help your community understand the importance of developing clean electricity sources.

Written by: Renewable Energy Policy Project:


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