Practical Q&A with Environmental Engineer Vern Novstrup

Dear GreenLight:

I've heard a lot about electric deregulation and the possibility of switching to a renewable power provider. What is renewable or green power? Will it cost me more? How do I switch?

B. M.

Dear B. M.:

Simply put, renewable power is electricity generated from biomass, digester gas, geothermal, small hydroelectric, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, solar, or wind. Although renewable power is generally considered better, it is not without environmental impacts. For example, wind turbines kill a significant number of birds every year.

The cost of renewable energy varies with the supplier and source. Several suppliers provide electricity for less than the public utilities exchange (PX) rate, while others charge substantially more.

One easy way to research renewable energy providers is to go to www The web site allows you to easily compare all renewable energy providers for both cost and energy sources. Once you have selected the provider that meets your needs, you simply contact that provider by phone and request your service be changed. After you switch, you will still get a bill from your electric utility for delivery of the electricity. In some cases you will get a second bill for the electricity.

Dear Greenlight:

I recently saw a news story about potential hazards from breathing diesel exhaust. How serous is the hazard and what can I do to protect my health?

J. L

Dear J. L.:

A recent study of air quality in the Los Angeles area suggests that more than 70 percent of the total cancer risk from airborne contaminants in the LA basin can be linked to diesel exhaust. In addition, researchers have linked diesel emissions to a number of other health concerns that include respiratory irritation, development of allergies, and impaired lung function. Although it is not possible to prove the exact health impacts, the evidence is compelling. A copy of the LA study may be found at:

Unfortunately, agencies that are tasked with improving air quality are limited in what they can do to reduce overall diesel emissions. Most current regulations to reduce diesel emissions focus on either reducing emissions from new vehicles and heavy equipment or reformulating diesel fuel to reduce emissions. Both the EPA and state of California have significantly tightened diesel emission regulations for vehicles, equipment, and marine vessels in the past several years. The full benefits of these changes will take years to realize because older equipment will continue to be used. Additionally, the regulations are phased in to allow time for developing better emission control equipment. California already is already requiring use of reformulated diesel fuel.

Regarding protecting yourself from diesel exhaust, another study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District found that peoples' highest daily exposure to air pollutants may be during their commute to and from work. This suggests to me that living closer to where you work could significantly lower your risk. More importantly, if we all commute less, we will have better air quality and more time.

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