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Electricity and the



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Frequently Asked Questions


The Importance of Your
Electricity Choice

Every day, the generation of electric power produces more pollution than any other single industry in the United States. This pollution is changing the planet's climate and ecosystems in ways that will harm generations to come. Until recently, consumers had little choice about their electricity provider, but now more and more states are offering an opportunity to support cleaner, healthier power supplies.

As new marketers enter into the power market, and existing utilities evolve to meet the challenge, you may have the opportunity to choose among electricity providers and choose cleaner power. Since the electric power industry is complex, the Power Scorecard is providing consumers with the tools to understand the environmental implications of their choices, and to act on their preferences.

So how can your choice make a difference to the environment? By choosing low environmental-impact power, you are sending your utility company a clear signal that being able to use electricity produced from cleaner power sources really matters to you. Your choice will encourage power companies to replace aging fossil fuel plants with facilities that use new renewable fuels and cleaner technologies. You will be proving that, if your current supplier doesn't provide you with cleaner electricity, you will buy it from their competitors.

The Legacy of Pollution Linked to Electricity Production

The fuels most commonly used for electricity production, fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, are known as non-renewable resources. They take millions of years to be formed in the crust of the earth by natural processes. Once burned to produce electricity, they are gone forever.

In contrast renewable energy supplies, such as wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass energy, are obtained directly or indirectly from the vast amounts of solar energy that continually pours to earth from the sun. Unlike fossil fuels, these are power sources which when managed sustainably, are virtually inexhaustible. They tap the heat of the earth or a small part of the solar energy that is constantly flowing to some part of the earth, for example, by collecting the heat of the sun directly, by using the energy in the winds created by the effects of the heat of the sun, or burning trees/plants/animal by-products grown with solar energy.

Burning fossil fuels such as coal or oil creates unwelcome by-products such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other substances that pollute when released into the environment. These chemicals are the culprits that contribute significantly to such well-known environmental woes as acid rain, urban smog and global warming.

Nuclear power is another common source of electricity and, like coal, creates some of the most serious environmental impacts and also creates a risk of catastrophic accident that could kill as many as 100,000 people or more. Although nuclear power plants do not release any of the "traditional" power generation air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, or nitrogen oxides, the nuclear fuel systems create hazards that may threaten people and the environment now and for generations to come. In addition, the mining, processing and transportation of nuclear fuel for these plants produces significant pollution, including air pollution. After decades of nuclear power plant operation, our nation has not yet decided how to solve the problem of safely storing hazardous nuclear wastes for centuries into the future.

"Clean" or "Green" Power

No plant is completely clean or green. However, some power plants produce relatively few air pollutants and at the same time cause few land and water impacts at the plant site or in the process of obtaining the fuel or disposing of plant wastes.

Such low impact power facilities are usually sited and operated in ways to minimize damage to the environment. By choosing these cleaner electricity sources, you have the opportunity to meet your electricity needs with a minimum of environmental damage with technologies that are building a foundation for a sustainable energy future.

Some electricity service providers are now offering consumers the opportunity to obtain their electricity from a package of electricity supplies that include highly desirable renewable resources, sometimes combined with the cleanest available conventional technologies.

In some cases, new power plants relying upon state-of-the-art technology produce lower levels of toxic emissions than older plants, even when burning coal or oil, fossil fuels typically considered "dirty."

The importance of "New Renewable" Power Sources

An important ingredient in any power product is "new renewable/environmentally preferred" electricity supplies. By using new, low-impact renewable resources, the power supplier displaces older, often higher polluting facilities.

Not only do new, cleaner sources of electricity provide significant environmental improvement over most current generating resources, but purchases from new low impact sources create the consumer demand necessary for even more new renewable resources to be constructed. Buying electricity from new renewable generation yields immediate and long-term environmental gains.

Now You Have a Choice

Through deregulation of the electricity industry, consumers are being given the opportunity to choose among electricity providers. Voting for the environment with your electricity dollars helps support companies investing in new renewable power supplies and helps bring down the cost of non-polluting sources.

The Power Scorecard is designed to provide you with the tools you need to choose the electricity product that's right for you. Now you can get answers to questions like:

  • Just how clean is the electricity I am buying?

  • How good is an energy marketer's claim that their electricity service is "greener" than others?

Your choice of power supply can help revolutionize an industry, transforming it from being part of the problem to part of the solution. Make sure your children and grandchildren are left with clean air, water, and land for their future.

Racoon State Park, Pennsylvania.  Photo by John Gates.
Racoon State Park, Pennsylvania
Photo by John Gates

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