Green Energy Guide

A Consumer's Guide to Sustainable Electricity

November 8, 2000

Green Energy Guide: It's In Your Hands

Today's world is unimaginable without electricity. Electricity powers everything from coffee makers to computers. Between 1949 and 1998 the U.S. population grew by 82 percent, but the amount of electricity sold by utilities grew by 1,200 percent, and today electricity use per person is six times higher than it was 50 years ago.

At the point of use, electricity is a clean, flexible, controllable, safe, effortless and instantly available form of energy. Electricity is a common energy currency: Your power company could be using any number of different fuels to generate electricity, but your refrigerator knows no difference. As our appetite for electricity grows, it is essential that we shift to more sustainable sources of electricity: those that do not threaten the ecological, social and economic well-being of present and future generations. Over the next 50 years virtually all of the equipment used to produce and consume energy will be replaced, and consumers now have a remarkable opportunity to influence the future of electricity.

Until very recently, consumers had no choice in what company would provide their electricity. But this is changing rapidly. Deregulation of the electricity industry is occurring in, or being considered by the legislature of every state in the nation. Customers in California and Pennsylvania already can choose their electricity provider, and as they are learning, significant differences do exist between suppliers. Some companies boast of their use of renewable resources such as wind, solar and small hydro. Even among conventional energy suppliers there are important variations, some relying mainly on nuclear power and others on coal or natural gas. For the consumer, this choice brings both responsibility and opportunity.

If consumers choose haphazardly they are turning a blind eye to the significant environmental impacts associated with electricity generation. But if consumers consistently choose companies that provide sustainable energy and encourage their local governments, employers, churches, and businesses to do the same, the power of the marketplace will encourage a transition to a sustainable energy future. More importantly, by choosing a sustainable supply of electricity sources, citizens can send a powerful message to politicians and utility companies that sustainability is important. The effects would not just be seen in the United States. As a the world's major industrial power, cultural influence and source of pollution, America's shift to sustainable electricity production would have profound effects on the global environment.