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The Planet

The Planet
October 1998 Volume 5, Number 8


Swimming in the Power Pool

So you've chosen electricity generated by the sun and wind. It doesn't seem any different and your bill is higher. How do you know you're really buying green power?

Electricity isn't delivered straight to you by a direct line from each power generator.

Instead, it travels at the speed of light through a series of wires known as the transmission grid. All the power in the grid creates a pool of resources. Each power generator delivers electricity to the power pool, where electricity from clean sources and from polluting sources gets mixed together and is fed to each individual area's local distribution system.

Every kilowatt-hour of electrical energy is identical to every other, so it is impossible to tell which electricity comes from burning methane gas and which comes from a nuclear reactor. In other words, even if you buy 50 percent of your power from wind turbines, the electricity you actually use may not be wind generated.

The important thing is whether the money you pay for electricity supports polluting plants or if it supports clean, sustainable power. In fact, restructuring isn't about the flow of electricity at all; it is about the flow of money.

"We use the bank analogy to help customers understand this concept," said Allan Schurr, director of news and public affairs at PG&E Energy Services, an energy provider company in California affiliated with PG&E, the regulated utility that owns the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. "The exact bills you put into your account may not be the ones you withdraw when you need them - but you get the same dollar amount."

The point is that a larger percentage of renewable energy is put into the power pool because of your purchase. In a market economy, creating customer demand is one way to increase the production of renewables. Given the fact that our market economy does not account for the pollution from power plants, public policy that increases investments in new renewable resources is still needed in addition to customer demand.

If your state has restructured (see chart), you can choose to hire a different company to provide your energy. By choosing wisely, you can find a provider that guarantees your energy dollars support non-polluting plants using solar, wind and other sustainable technologies. You can also work in your community to influence your neighbors and local businesses to invest in clean sources.

The other three sections of this feature:

The main article: Green Power or Greenwashing?

Definitions. What are stranded costs, anyway?

Swimming in the power pool.

Guide to getting green.
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