Although the best way to live sustainably is to reduce consumption, that often requires sacrifices I’m not willing to make. A good second option is to make sure that the things I consume are as sustainable as possible. In the case of electricity, Duke Energy has a program called GoGreen that would allow us to purchase 100-kWh blocks of green power. The price isn’t totally unreasonable. It’s $2.50 per block, with a required purchase of $5. Since we always use more than 200-kWh a month, we could go totally green for about 25% more than we’re paying now. That’s not insignificant, but we could probably swing it.
So why don’t I take the green option and take advantage of GoGreen? Because it’s not really that sustainable. The 100-kWh blocks that you buy don’t necessarily change the makeup of the electricity you receive. If it was 100% coal before, it’ll probably be 100% coal after. Instead, what you’re getting are renewable energy certificates (RECs).
Whenever a green energy source (wind, solar, some hydro, etc.) produces 1MWh of electricity, it is assigned one REC. These RECs are then sold on the open market, subsidizing part of the additional cost of green energy production (since the green source is also paid for the electricity generated).
To me, green energy means holds a lot more promise than just a reduction in CO2. Unlike other sources, things like wind and solar scale down (or, as I prefer it, scale personal) well, which makes it feasible to create electricity locally. Just as with food, there’s a meaningful cost to shipping energy. Paying people in other states to feed their sustainable sources into the grid is encouraging the wrong behavior.
I could pay Duke Energy $25 a month and make a small, indirect impact. Or, I can save that money and make a more direct impact by reducing my consumption of electricity off the grid. In the near future, I can get some small solar panels to power things like my digital camera and cell phone. Once I’ve saved some more, I can invest in more solar or perhaps in a small wind turbine.
This way, not only am I converting my non-sustainable energy requirements to sustainable sources, I’m directly funding the companies who are creating green energy sources. I’ll also be creating my own localized power, which means I’ll be less affected by blackouts and brownouts. Maybe sometime in the future, I won’t need those power lines at all.