Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

OK, let's get some things out of the way first. I am not a scientist and I suck at math. I'm more with the hugging the trees and the writing the funny stories. I'm going to do the best I can here and if I screwed anything up, tell me and I'll fix it. If you do not agree with this disclaimer, please click here to be taken to a picture of a puppy sitting on a kitten.

So right now, I'm paying about $0.0596 per kilowatt hour (slightly more in summer, slightly less in winter) for Dominion's standard mix of dirty coal and nuclear power. According to Pepco's, here are my options:

Green Mix (hydro, solar, wind & biomass) -- $0.1018/kwh
Wind Only -- $0.1098/kwh
I decided to go with the Green Mix (my term) because it's a little cheaper and I'm not picky about whether it's zero-carb(on) or just almost-zero-carb.

How much will it cost me? In the past year, my roommate and I used 3,550 kilowatt hours of electricity. (Because my roommate and I live in a small apartment, aren't home very often, and only run the heat/air conditioning when we need it, we use relatively little power.) It's cost us $211 in direct payments for electricity supply service, and a little less than that for distribution service (about $10-40 per month for ESS plus $10-20 per month for DS).

Assuming our power usage stays the same, the Green Mix will increase our direct payments for ESS to $361 (closer to $15-60 per month) and our DS costs will go up as well ($15-30 per month). However, I've recently cut our power usage by 10% through power strips and compact fluorescent light bulbs, so the hit won't be that bad.

How much will it help the environment? Here's where the impacts get really remarkable. According to one carbon footprint calculator, here's how just switching my electricity source will alter my carbon footprint:

Total with mostly coal power: 6.3 tons of carbon dioxide emitted
Total with renewable energy: 4.75 tons of CO2 emitted

Just switching my electricity to renewable energy will keep over 3,000 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year. Add in my roommate's half of the bill, and it's up to 6,000 pounds of CO2, or three tons. It's about the same impact as cutting my driving 5,000 miles a year. Considering I started this whole process because I'm now driving more, it's nice to see a strong correlation there. (Speaking of driving, for a fun game go to the carbon calculator and see how much your carbon emissions go up if you switch your car to a 2006 Lincoln Navigator.)

The bottom line? Yes, it'll cost more. But for me, it's a far more convenient way to slash my carbon footprint than selling my car. I already work out of our DC office one day a week and carpool one or two days a week, but taking public transportation from Ballston to Reston the remaining days would be a major pain -- it takes at least twice as long as driving.

But what's most critical is that the benefits I'm buying aren't theoretical or hippie mumbo-jumbo. Switching your power to renewable energy has a clear cause-and-effect impact -- less coal is burned resulting in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As the Washington Post details today, if you rely on carbon offsets, the results are much less clear:

A closer look reveals an unregulated market in which some improvements bought by customers are only estimated, extrapolated, hoped-for or nil. Some offsets support projects that would have gone forward anyway. Others deliver results difficult to measure.

Switching to renewable energy, on the other hand, will get a huge bang for my buck -- even more than if I'd switched my car to a new Toyota Prius (that would cut 1.3 tons of CO2 off my annual carbon footprint and cost a lot more than a couple of hundred dollars).

Check it out for yourself at Pepco's website.

Monday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power I: The Adventure Begins
Tuesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power II: Even Dominion Workers Think Dominion's Process Sucks
Wednesday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power III: Convincing Pepco to Take My Money
Thursday -- The Green Miles Buys Green Power IV: The Bottom Line

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