I asked a few weeks back whether any of you had changed your spending behaviors based on our current recession. Some of you had cut back, while others underscored the importance of always living frugally, so no recession-time cutbacks are necessary.
I, too, choose to live frugally. But sometimes, I also choose to pay more.
In fact, on Halloween Day 2006, I officially made the decision to pay more for my electricity. 1.3 cents per kilowatt hour more, in fact, which generally means an extra $11 to $16 per month for me, based on recent history.
Clean Power Choice
On that date, I signed up with New Wind Energy, which offers nationwide green energy programs. They participate in the NJ Clean Power Choice program, where these charges are directly added to my monthly utility bill.
It’s a set-it-and-forget-it approach to green power, allowing me to support my chosen provider without the installation or hassle of new lines, etc. New Wind Energy is just one of lots of providers available throughout the country, which allowed me to choose the type(s) of power I desired.
I filled out a basic form, and about a month later I was being charged the difference in power cost, paying the delivery fees to my local utility while my supply payment is redirected to support wind power. The electricity I buy is supplied to the grid, even though it isn’t technically going straight to my house. My favorite analogy here is of adding clean water to a a bathtub of dirty water. The water’s not going to become crystal clear right away, but it will gradually become cleaner.
My money helps to build more wind turbines, the most cost-effective renewable energy technology in the world. You can read more about wind energy here, but one of the biggest benefits is the reduction of greenhouse gases, as wind power creates no emissions. The more of this type of power coming into the grid, the better, and I’m happy to help tip the balance.
Renewable Energy Certificates
The Clean Power Choice Program is somewhat more straightforward than RECs (renewable energy certificates), another option for greening your power. There’s a lot to discuss about RECs, but they work much like carbon offsets — you’re purchasing your equivalent electricity usage in green power. Even if your state offers no power choice programs, you can still go online and buy your allottment of RECs.
Wikipedia provides some great background on RECs:
Because nuclear and fossil fuel power are subsidized and their full costs are not built into the price charged, they are cheaper than most renewable sources. The wholesale price for electricity is determined by non-renewable sources and is often less than the cost of producing it through cleaner renewable methods. This is due partially to government subsidies for the nonrenewable energy industry, and partially to a market structure that does not fully capture all social and environmental costs associated with conventional electricity generation (like air pollution, costs to maintain the military in oil-rich parts of the world, disposal costs for nuclear waste, health impacts of dirty generation, etc.) A REC represents an additional payment for producing power from renewable resources, allowing the producer to generate and sell electricity at the local market price and thus enabling more clean renewable energy to be made.
I had been actively pursuing solar panel installation for my house, but the contractor explained I’d have to cut down a giant 50-year-old tree I adore, plus the cost, while well-subsidized, still was nearly $20,000. That’s a lot for a little ranch house like mine, plus I don’t plan to live here for more than another 5 years, so it may not pay to do it. A system only goes about 15 years before needing repairs, another consideration. I am hoping that further subsidies for solar installation will become available in the future and will see what I can do on that front as well.
Faced with all of these options, I took the easy route to clean energy for my home with the Clean Power Choice program, and I’ve never regretted it, even as fuel and utility costs continue to rise.
But why? Simply said, I believe that my power as a consumer is one of the strongest powers I have, possibly more impactful than the US voting process, though of course I still plan to exercise my right to vote.
But with my dollars, I’m voting every day, sanctioning the business practices of the companies my money supports, regardless of my intentions. I’ve been this way for a long time, but only recently learned the name for my particular condition: ethical consumerism. (More on that in a future entry.)
For most of my young life, bargains were paramount, and I continually made choices based on the best price or best customer experience. Now I see my purchasing power as directly shaping the world in which I live, and I’m making very different choices.
I am well aware that the environmental impact of our present fuel consumption is a humongous spectre, of such massive scale that it seems impossible to combat it. I’ll confess that I do have a relatively apocalyptic vision of our planet’s future. However dismal the outlook may seem, I’m a person of action, and over the last few years, I’ve seen the scales start to tip in positive ways from an aggregate of what are really minor lifestyle changes. It’s encouraging.
I willingly pay more for electricity so that I can be using and contributing to the kind of power I believe in: clean, green power.
I pay more as an investment, so that over time these technologies will become better and more affordable. In fact, according to a recent article in BusinessWeek, it’s happening already.
So I pack a few lunches a month to cover the extra expense. To me, it’s worth it.
Image Credit: Phault
Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published April 8, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.