Before consumers rush to massenergy.org to take Judy Weiss’s advice to buy all of their electricity from local green generators, they should be aware of the downsides of such a choice (Letter: Another way to vote for green energy,” Aug. 26).
The first downside is that there is no such thing as greenhouse gas emission–free energy. Greenhouse gas emissions (and often other more toxic emissions) are produced when the original equipment (solar panels and wind turbines) is manufactured and installed or when land is inundated for the construction of a hydropower plant. In addition, during the operation of solar, wind, biogas, and hydropower plants, additional greenhouse gas emissions are always inevitable. Off-shore wind turbines need to be maintained and repaired by (typically) diesel-powered vessels; dammed lakes continue to produce methane and carbon dioxide from rotting vegetation; conventional fossil fuels need to be used to meet demand when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow; manure needs to be collected and transported and placed in anaerobic digesters before the biofuel can be produced. And according to a federal study published in “Nature Climate Change,” one taxpayer-subsidized renewable biofuel, ethanol, actually produces 7 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuel gasoline it is replacing! Nonetheless, it is true that many renewable energy options do entail lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal, oil, or natural gas and some consumers might want to consider lowering their carbon footprint a bit.
That brings us to the second downside. Local green energy costs more. The two options listed at massenergy.org are (1) 100 percent wind for an additional 3.8 cents/kwh or (2) 25 percent wind, solar, and anaerobic digester gas and 75 percent hydropower for an additional 2.4 cents/kwh. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is actually quite a steep green premium. My home electric bill currently reflects a generation charge of 7.6 cents/kwh, so if I were to choose massenergy’s first option, my generation charge would increase by a whopping 50 percent! And if I chose the somewhat less green second option, my generation charge would increase by a still steep 30 percent. I expect that few, if any, of my neighbors would voluntarily choose to add such a surcharge to their utility bills in exchange for the relatively minor decrease in greenhouse gas emissions they would be buying.
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