How Clean Is Your Electricity?

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I came across this fascinating resource in an article in my daily email from the Mother Earth News:

The US Environmental Protection Agency has a neat little web thingy called the Power Profiler, which will show you what sources of electric power generation your local utility uses and what kinds of air pollution emissions that causes, and how all of that compares with national averages (currently using 2005 data).

My region is rather large — most of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West — but you can select different utility providers if your zip code has more than one, to make some comparisons, and some regions are smaller and thus more local in nature.

My region and utility use almost 50% hydroelectric, which is far above the average, and about 30% coal, close to average. Almost no nuclear or oil power. All the emissions are below average.

I thought it would be interesting to look at other places I have lived. California has more variety both green and not so, since there are utilities there (such as the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District) that support renewable resources, and two nuclear power plants. New York has quite a bit of hydro and nuclear power, and all of these regions also rely on oil and gas to some degree. California was the leader in non-hydro renewables (e.g. wind, solar, and biomass).

It’s heartening to see that there is such variety, in terms of the security of the power generation system and growing reliance on renewables; it’s discouraging to see such dependence on petroleum and coal given their polluting and nonrenewable natures. In fact, even in regions where I least expected it — Seattle, where hydro is plentiful, and Dallas, where oil is king —  coal still provided one-third or more of power generation.

All the more reason to keep to my plan for solar panels and passive heating and cooling in any future homes!

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11 responses to “How Clean Is Your Electricity?

  1. Mon

    I love when they make such things available for the ordinary folk. Must feel good to be living in a state with such numbers.

    I would hate to see what it was across Europe, especially where we live now. Having said that, being a less rich country means the reliance is actually on wood rather than nuclear, so that’s something (for now).

  2. We are almost 49% coal (I figured) but was surprised that there was so much reliance on nuclear! I am with you, we are trying to get off grid as soon as possible. The house we live in now is an energy hog, not to mention the barns and green house. We would like to start over again and build a small house completely energy sufficient. We have two running streams through our property and we are looking into having micro-hydro generators. Jerome is interested in making Biogas, but I think you have to be in a much warmer climate to use (Honduras and Cuba uses some Biogas and I think parts of China are developing this energy source).

    It is very disheartening to see that our area has around 1% invested into green energy…

  3. I went to the site and was not surprised to find that our electric utility (Laclede Electric Coop) uses 83% coal, and our emissions are above the national average. To make things worse, we do not have the option (yet) of opting to buy from other sources. Oh, and they are always talking about how they are committed to clean coal (maybe) conservation ( a big lie) blah blah

    I do want solar panels very much, but they are beyond our means at present. Soon.

  4. We use Cow Power! It costs a bit more, but it feels good to be supporting a new technology.

  5. Mon: I just wish they’d start using more alternative energy around here. Solar would be a good option given the sunny summers, and wind all year long. There are some rather large wind turbine installations in Wyoming west of here, which is nice to see. SMUD in Sacramento was really progressive, giving lots of rebates and assistance to homeowners and businesses to install solar — a really good option there given the hot, sunny climate — and they also use wind and biomass on a larger scale.

    Lisa Anne: The Indian Point nuclear plant was just up the river from us in New York, so I wasn’t surprised really. Micro-hydro would be a good option in your neck of the woods given your precipitation, except I wonder about winter when the streams freeze?

    HMH: I’d be interested to hear about how solar panels stand up to things like ice storms and hail. And I’d like to know just how oxymoronic “clean coal” really is!

    Sarah: I hadn’t heard of the Cow Power program before. What a great business model! A 4 cents per KWH surcharge is pretty high, but I like that the surcharge goes back to the farmers. And it’s pretty much win-win since the manure gets taken out of the environment and so doesn’t pollute, and the farmers get an additional revenue stream that’s not tied to milk price fluctuations.

  6. Do you consider hydro green power considering all the damage it does to landscapes and fish (and other animal) populations?

  7. Papa B: Not exactly. I don’t like the environmental impacts that you mention. However if we compare hydro to fossil fuels, then yes, it is “more” green in that there aren’t all those nasty emissions, and it is a renewable resource. I’m not likely to support any new dams, but I guess I’ll say that I’m glad for the ones that exist, if only that they provide energy that would most likely otherwise be provided through petroleum.

  8. That is a fun tool to use. I was surprised at what it said, but I’m in the same region as you. Where I live (too small for the chart), nearly 100% of power comes from hydroelectricity, but the utility company is doing some experimentation with solar and wind power.

  9. Oh yes, our area is heavy on coal. We are able to elect to use wind power though, for a higher rate/fee.

  10. Alida

    We’re in the same area. Same numbers.

    I was just talking to my son the other day about how being poor limits your choices. We were hit with the reality of it when our water heater’s thermostat burned to a crisp, because whoever wired it long before we bought the house did it wrong. This all happened on the heels of replacing our roof and our sewer. So now we needed to replace the water heater (pronto) and rewire too!

    We really wanted to buy an energy efficient water heater, knowing that in the long run it would pay for itself. The truth of the short-run was we were bathing with water warmed on the stove, money was tight with yet one more college sememster looming. We bought a water heater that is NOT energy efficient, but it was only $150.00 which while not within our budget, was also not over $500.00 like the energy efficient models.

    The point being, technology gets cheaper every year, when is “green” stuff going to become affordable? Just a tangent I needed to go off in, sorry!

  11. Dawn: I think utilities really need to diversify. Lots of places would not be able to rely on solar during the winter, for example, but then you might have better results from wind generators. And then maybe someday all those western dams can go away!

    Denise: The thing that bothers me about that is that it gentrifies (elitifies?) green energy. Kind of like organics, in that right now I just can’t afford to make these choices that I really do support, simply because they are not subsidized the way fossil fuels and big agro are.

    Alida: Economics somehow just does not work in my brain, but I believe that simple supply and demand is supposed to take care of that: the more people that choose green options, the cheaper they will become. Kind of like other durable goods — remember how expensive things like CD players and cell phones used to be? The other thing to look for is rebates that are often attached to green products or are offered by local utilities.

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