ENVIRONMENT: Experts say consumers aren’t aware

of programs.

By MICHAEL HILL

The Associated Press

ALBANY — Even as more Americans look to shrink their carbon footprints, relatively few have switched to providers of electricity generated by wind, water and sun.

“Green power” programs allow consumers to purchase renewable energy, usually at a premium, without having to go through the far greater expense of erecting a windmill or installing a solar panel. The programs are widely available, yet there are estimates that fewer than 1 percent of residential consumers nationwide receive their electricity from “green power” providers.

Call it a green power disconnect.

People involved in the alternative energy industry say Americans are interested in reducing the amount of greenhouse gases they are responsible for — witness the popularity of compact fluorescent bulbs. But they say many consumers aren’t aware of programs designed to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Or how they work. Or even if they work.

“They don’t think wind and solar power can keep the lights on at night, keep the heat on the winter and keep the air conditioning on in the summer,” said Brian F. Keane, president of Smart Power, a not-for-profit clean energy marketing group. “It conjures up all of the worst caricatures of the environmental movement ... They must wear hemp, they must buy organic, they must live in a cold, dark house.”

Green power programs allow consumers to buy wind, hydro, solar and biomass energy without disconnecting from the electrical grid. In states with deregulated utilities, consumers can often shop directly for renewable electricity suppliers. More common are programs through utilities that allow customers to buy some of their power from green providers.

The “GreenUp” program offered by National Grid is typical. The utility’s Upstate New York customers can choose among four renewable providers that offer a mix of wind and small hydro power that costs from 1 to 2.5 cents more per kilowatt hour, which for an average New Yorker would mean roughly $6 to $15 in additional electricity costs a month.

The electricity is still delivered over wires maintained by National Grid, and the utility still bills the consumer. But National Grid secures the power from one of the clean energy providers on behalf of the subscribers. There’s no new equipment and no visit from a power crew to get the green power running.

About 13,000 of National Grid’s 1.4 million New York residential customers participate in GreenUp — a low signup rate on par with statewide and national figures.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated last year that were about 700,000 customers nationwide — almost all of them residential — buying green power through either competitive markets or utilities in 2006. While there are 122.5 million residential customers nationwide, not all of them have access to green power programs. A better gauge might be the participation rate of 1.8 percent.

“Shopping for electricity is such a low-interest category with consumers, and confusing,” said John Holtz, director of operations for Green Mountain Energy.

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