EHS Management

A Green Power Primer

What defines “green power”? According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)  Green Power Partnership, “green power” is electricity that provides the highest environmental benefit and is produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources.

Green power suppliers produce no fossil-fuel emissions and must have been built within the past 15 years as part of “new” renewable energy development. The EPA also notes that green power is actually a subset of renewable energy because some renewable sources, such as large hydroelectric  plants, have significant negative environmental trade-offs, such as land-use and fisheries impacts.

How do I know a power supplier is as green as it claims to be? Consumers should ask if the supplier is certified by Green-e Energy, the leading verification program for renewable energy in the United States. One of the requirements for certification under the voluntary program is that suppliers disclose information to consumers that will help them make informed purchasing decisions.

How much of an environmental impact could be made from using green power in one commercial building? One typical commercial building using 100% green power would avoid the carbon dioxide emissions of almost 28 cars each year.

What other benefits can a company gain by purchasing green power? Environmental benefits aside, financial benefits include protection against rising and fluctuating fossil-fuel costs, minimized fuel supply disruptions by using on-site renewable power, and avoiding increased power costs caused by federal and state regulatory actions. From a sustainability perspective, the benefits include meeting corporate environmental goals, demonstrating corporate leadership, and positive public relations opportunities. Overall benefits include improved employee morale and being able to differentiate products and services as being produced with renewable energy.

What is the most efficient way to find green power suppliers? Three national locater systems are available:

Another potential source is state governments, especially in states that have restructured their energy markets or check with your utility to see if they have programs that fit your needs.

If there is no direct green power available for my business, do I have any other options? Yes. You can install your own on-site green power system (solar, wind, biomass, etc.) or you can purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs). Each REC represents the generation of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity from an eligible renewable energy source and also denotes the source, location, year of generation, environmental emissions, and other characteristics. RECs are important because they are not specific to timing of power delivery and provide the means to purchase renewable energy even when it is not locally available. They can also be purchased on the basis of a fixed amount of electricity rather than on daily or monthly energy load requirements.

Where can RECs be purchased? Companys can purchase RECs directly from utilities and from marketers/brokers who can help large power purchasers negotiate deals for a fee. There are also REC tracking systems for keeping up with REC ownership and MWh of electricity. Each REC has a unique identification number that helps resolve ownership issues and reduce double counting (one REC being sold to two purchasers). Tracking systems and verification of certification are two ways purchasers can be sure about what they buying. Here are three REC tracking system providers:

Environmental Tracking Network of North America (ETNNA):  http://www.etnna.org

PJM Generation Attribute Tracking System (GATS): http://www.pjm-eis.http://www.pjm-eis.com

APX’s North American Renewables Registry: http://www.http://www.narecs.com/.com

For more information, check out  EPA’s Green Power Partnership  website at http://www.epa.gov/greenpower.