What Does It Mean to Be Green?
We have a green option on our electric bill, but I haven't enrolled yet (we've only had two billing cycles in this house). I feel conflicted about it and must sort it out before deciding. Ours is through TVA (TN Valley Authority). We can buy as much green energy as we want, in blocks of 150 kWh for $4. This is of course in addition to our bill. They specify the types of renewables that will account for these kilowatt hours to be wind, solar, and landfill gas (garbage farts?!). My issues with the program are as follows: one, it feels a bit like paying a premium price for a "natural" product because they know they can charge more for it because it's popular with a certain crowd of which I am admittedly a part. Two, it's not like *my house* is going to get the green electricity I purchase per se. It only means I create an accounting demand of sorts. In other words, the way it works is, if customers pay for 100 blocks of green energy, the TVA has to make sure they pull that amount of kilowatt hours from green sources to the grid. The rest of what their customers consume is supplied by nonrenewables (such as the ever-lovely coal-burning power plants). They won't buy any more green power than customers pay for and just have a higher percentage of renewable electricity; it has to be demanded by the customer. I understand the business logic of this, and the infrastructure and supply and demand factors, but nonetheless that irks me. If you're really trying to make a difference and not just a profit off folks with a guilty conscience about fossil fuels, why not buy as much green power as the sources can supply? But, on the other hand, as long as we're not energy-independent and since we are on the grid, the least damaging thing we can do is create the demand that our kWh's be from renewable sources... then if we enroll in this green switch program, I have to decide how many blocks to buy. Do I want to try to buy enough green kilowatt-hours to cover 20% of our total electricity? 50? 100? I can't really go 100%, since it's in blocks and once you sign up the amount you pay for is fixed. In winter our bill will be negligible, since we don't heat with electricity, meaning I'd just be handing the power company a twenty every month-- for what, being on good behavior? I don't even do that to my kid!
So what can I do? What can you do? What I'm really asking is, how do we take on the machine? That's really the question du jour, n'est-ce pas? (Isn't my French pretty?) My first profusely obvious step is to drastically reduce the amount of energy I consume. Even if I'm "buying green," it's less money to the big guys (I find that spite is a wonderful motivator). We ditched our dishwasher, use compact fluorescents (looking forward to the price coming down and availability going up on the new LED lights!), keep the thermostat high when it's hot and off when it's cold (we use wood heat). Keep the lights off, turn off appliances that have stand-by modes... we can't figure out how to adjust our hot water heater's thermostat because we flat-out can't find the damn thing, but it's old enough that we will replace it soon. Our new one will be tankless, supplemented by a solar water heater as soon as we can afford it. The old one will then become our biodiesel reactor. Then there's the dryer... perhaps I can apply my spite technique to getting motivated to stop using the dryer.
Next will be the addition of some PV panels. Our roof serendipitously has multiple well-placed surfaces for collecting. I don't know if this house will ever supply 100% of its own energy, but seeing that goal as a convergence point for a multi-pronged approach keeps me hopeful.
Another renewable concept I'm wondering about involves collecting the sun's heat. I was daydreaming about this earlier this summer, thinking, "Can't I harness this god-awful scorching blaze off my roof, keep it out of my house, and run some appliances off of it?" Magically the latest issue of Mother Earth News arrived with a blurb about just that. So it is possible! But so far no one is selling that technology to private homeowners. All good things in good time...