Renewable Energy Supplier

Green power is electricity that is supplied from off-site renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, or biomass.
credit: kateausburn

The renewable energy is not generated on-site, such as by roof-mounted solar panels, but rather is generated off-site by a renewable energy provider. Building owners can purchase green power from a renewable energy provider, which decreases the emissions for grid-source electricity production. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires that green power comes from renewable energy projects that were built in the last 15 years, so purchasing it also promotes “new” renewable energy developments.

The Department of Energy estimates that 50% of American homeowners now have the option of purchasing green power through their utility. Some states allow homeowners to purchase electricity through the utility of their choosing, which means that they can purchase from a renewable energy supplier. Alternatively, customers may be able to pay "green prices" to support renewable energy investment and development on behalf of the utility.

If you cannot purchase or financially support renewable energy through your utility, then you can purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs). RECs, also referred to as green tags or tradable renewable certificates (TRCs), represent energy generated by renewable sources, which offsets the grid-source electricity that you use. One REC represents 1000 kilowatt-hours (or 1 megawatt-hour) of electricity that enters the grid from renewable sources.

If you purchase these separately from your utility, it will not affect your regular utility bill or supply - it only offsets your carbon emissions.

Free LEED Exam PreperationPurchasing RECs

The price for RECs will vary based on the type of renewable energy used to produce the power, the location of the power production, the vendor and the length of the green power contract.
When purchasing RECs, make sure that they are from a legitimate provider. For instance, Green-e is the best-known consumer protection program for RECs. It certifies and verifies that RECs actually represent renewable energy generation.

3Degrees is an environmental commodities sales, trading and advisory firm that partners with organizations to help them buy, sell and market environmental commodities, including renewable energy certificates. 3Degrees was recognized four straight years as a "Green Power Supplier of the Year" by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The EPA chose both Renewable Choice Energy and Sterling Planet as “Green Power Supplier of the Year” in 2012.

Renewable Choice Energy, founded in 2001 in Colorado, offers RECs, carbon offsets, greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement services and energy efficiency solutions. In April 2012, the company supplied the largest number of EPA’s Green Power Partners. It works with Fortune 500 companies, schools, municipalities and firms to offer both trusted and innovative carbon reduction services. The company’s “American Wind” program specifically supports U.S. wind farms, and it has developed a special “Wind Power Card” with Whole Foods Market, which allows residential customers to buy green power at the point of purchase.

Sterling Planet, based in Atlanta since 2000, has a large client list of over 2500 businesses, 79 colleges and universities, 391 government agencies, and thousands of residential customers. It has also developed a partnership with 166 U.S. utilities. In April 2012, it sold the highest volume of RECs to EPA’s Green Power Partners of any renewable energy provider.

Green Power vs. Carbon Offsets

Green power and carbon offsets have a similar purpose, but are not the same. Both intend to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by financially supporting clean energy or “carbon sink” developments.

Carbon offsets are credits for reducing green house gas emissions. Firms or people can purchase carbon offsets to reduce their environmental impact. Essentially, they are emitting greenhouse gases, but then purchasing a credit that negates the greenhouse gases that they emitted.

The carbon is offset by generating energy through environmentally friendly and renewable methods, often in a location that is separate from where the carbon offset is purchased. For example, energy generated from wind farms, solar thermal sources or geothermal systems can be quantified in terms of carbon emissions diverted and sold as a carbon offset. Other projects that might make up carbon offset credits are forestry or energy efficiency projects.

Green power essentially aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by financially supporting renewable energy providers. The building owner is not purchasing “credits”, but is paying extra money to help the utility or energy provider generate energy from renewable sources. It does not mean that the building will be supplied directly with the green power that they purchased, but that the utility or provider will be able to generate more clean energy and use fewer fossil fuels, which will decrease the emissions of the overall energy mix.

A major distinction between carbon offsets and green power is that green power only comes from renewable energy generation. Carbon offsets can come from generating clean power, but also from other types of projects, like planting trees.

Additionally, an individual or company can purchase carbon offsets to make up for their emissions from travel, food, office supplies, lifestyle, etc. Green power is solely for building owners, who pay for it to make up for their building’s energy use only.

Green-e also certifies carbon offsets, and 3Degrees, Renewable Choice Energy, and Sterling Power supply verified carbon offsets for purchase.

Green Power and LEED

LEED NC awards two points under Energy and Atmosphere Credit 6: Green Power for engaging in a 2-year renewable energy contract that provides at least 35% of the building’s electricity from renewable sources, as defined by Green-e’s product certification requirements.

The building’s electricity for this credit is based on the amount of energy consumed, not cost. Therefore, to determine the baseline electricity use, the project can either use the annual electricity consumption from EA Credit 1: Optimize Energy Performance, or it can use data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey database to estimate annual consumption.

The rating system specifically mentions that RECs, TRCs and green tags can be used to provide this green power.


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