Green Power Makes Cents

by Carolyn Chase


an Diego public agencies now have the option to purchase non-polluting "green power" at a rate estimated to be 3 to 5% lower than that of conventional energy.

In 1998, after the deregulation of the power industry in California, local agencies, including cities, the county, schools, the port, water districts, and transit agencies, joined together under SANDAG to form the San Diego Regional Power Pool. The Regional Power Pool is made up of 75 public agencies including cities, water and school districts. As of this writing, 59 have elected to purchase the "green power" option.

The power pool contracted with Commonwealth Energy Corporation in 1998 for conventional energy, decreasing expenditures by 2.5% and saving an estimated $100,000 in the start-up year. This savings is expected to rise to close to $1 million in the coming year.

Commonwealth is now offering geothermal power - power produced from the heat of the earth's interior - as a "green power" source. This energy will cost agencies 3 to 5% less than conventional energy because of California's Renewable Resource Trust Fund Credits. The California Energy Commission authorized the use of the credits to reduce the costs of green power, including geothermal.

"Green power" is generated using renewable resources such as sunlight or geothermal energy. San Diego area governments have the opportunity to buy geothermal power produced at the Geysers operation in northern California. Conventional power is produced through the combustion of polluting resources such as coal and natural gas, the supplies of which are exhaustible and greatly controlled by foreign cartels.

Affordable green power provides an alternative to the greenhouse gas-producing combustion of non-renewable resources. It allows agencies to mitigate the negative effects of traditional energy without decreased reliability or increased costs. The electricity will continue to be delivered to customers choosing green power with the same reliability as traditional power sources.

Burning fossil fuels to create traditional power is responsible for a large portion of the greenhouse gases and toxins in the air. Traditional electricity generation produces 80% of the carbon dioxide and 70% of the sulfur dioxide emissions contributing to smog in the U.S. Geothermal plants emit less than 1% of the carbon dioxide emissions of fossil-fuel power plants, and very low amounts of sulfur dioxide.

Commonwealth Energy management held a number of focus groups to assist in establishing a marketing plan for the new green power program. While almost 100% of the individuals studied expressed strong, positive feelings toward purchasing environmentally friendly power, the overriding concern was still cost. Everyone was willing to purchase green power as long as it didn't cost them anything more than they were currently paying.

This is a difficult position to be in, because purchasing green power is more expensive than traditional power sources. However, through the Renewable Resource Trust Fund, credits are available to green power suppliers for every kilowatt-hour of green power purchased. This subsidy helps green power compete with the heavily subsidized existing fossil fuel system and allows Commonwealth to offer a discount to the consumer.

In addition to the program being offered to members of the Regional Power Pool, any of the customers of California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric or Sempra (all customers of San Diego Gas & Electric) - about 14 million Californians - are eligible to switch. The Renewable Resource Trust Fund amount was set at $540 million over a four year period. It currently is estimated to end in 2002. At that point, it will be reviewed and possibly re-allocated.

Switching to green power is only one way to support a clean energy transition. A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Matsui (D-CA) that would provide tax credits to consumers who buy less polluting automobiles, more energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment, and solar and renewable energy technologies (such as rooftop solar electric panels).

In addition to the immediate benefits of saving consumers money and reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases, these tax incentives would also help to multiply those benefits over time by spurring more widespread adoption of new clean energy technologies.

Call, fax or email your senators and representative and urge them to support H.R. 2380, the Energy Efficient Technology Tax Act. Let your legislators know that air pollution and global warming are pressing concerns that should be dealt with. The incentives in H.R. 2380 will help to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the two largest polluting sectors in the country -- electric power plants and automobiles -- while also saving consumers money and promoting economic competitiveness.