The cell-phone charger doesn’t get unplugged as often as it ought to.
The ancient water heater uses far more juice than a newer, more energy efficient model would.
The sheets and towels would dry perfectly well out on the clothesline, but it takes so long, the dryer is more convenient.
The mercury barely crept above 90 degrees this weekend and already the air conditioners set to whirring.
When it comes to our electrical use, most of us thoroughly deserve our guilty consciences. Noble though it may be, conserving electricity is one serious pain in the butt.
We could do better. We could use less.
That’s one way to unburden our guilt, but it’s not easy.
The other way is the American way: We can buy our way out of our guilt.
Two large Vermont electric utilities – Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power – each offers a program that allows customers to voluntarily pay a higher rate for their electricity that is generated from renewable sources.
That way, even though the aquarium pump has been running continuously even though the last tetra died during the Snelling administration, you can look at the tank and grin knowing that the electricity powering the pump was produced by cow poop, or a hydroelectric dam, and precious little harm came to the environment as a result.
No filthy coal electricity for you. You’re coughing up an extra 3 or 4 pennies per kilowatt-hour so that you can proudly tell your friends and family that you’re wasting only solar power, or wind electricity, or biomass- or biogas- or hydro-power.
Or are you?
Ah, if only the universe were so simple as that, so orderly, so easily manipulated.
Fact is, even if you shell out the big bucks for electricity zapped out of cow manure, the power toasting your seedless rye bread and percolating your shade-grown, fair-market coffee could be coming from the filthiest coal belching power plant in all the land.
This is not the utilities hornswoggling you. If you must blame someone for the pollution product flowing into your home through the outlet, blame our pesky pal the electron.
Yup, electrons. Not protons, not neutrons, not even the whole atom. Just the electron, a founding member of the subatomic trilogy.
This is how Green Mountain Power explains what’s going on to its customers in the terms and conditions of its GreenerGMP program: “I understand that signing up for GreenerGMP does not change the electrons that provide service to my home. Due to the complexity of the power grid and the laws of physics, actual electrons flow to the nearest need and cannot be directed to specific locations.”
CVPS uses similar language in its renewable-energy program, Cow Power.
All electricity, whether it’s produced by splitting atoms at a nuclear plant, or from venting methane gas out of a landfill, pours into the same grid of power lines and transmission towers. Just because you agree to pay 3 cents more per kilowatt-hour doesn’t guarantee that the electricity coming into your house comes directly from a bunch of friendly Vermont Holsteins.
The utilities admit, in the fine print, that they’ll invest in renewable energy or will buy green-energy credits with your money.
It’s the best they can do.
We can put a rover on Mars to look for traces of water and life.
But we can’t tell an electron where to go.
By Ed Shamy
Free Press Staff Writer
10 June 2008
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