EPA’s Green Power Partnership

[Enesta Jones] Hello and welcome to Green Scene, an environmental podcast you can take with you. I’m Enesta Jones with EPA’s Office of Public Affairs. EPA has a number of voluntary programs that work with the public in helping to protect the environment. Today I’m joined by Blaine Collison, program director of EPA’s Green Power Partnership, to talk about the partnership and how you can reduce the environmental impact of your electricity use by buying green power. Thank you, Blaine, for being here today. [Blaine Collison] Thank you for having me. [Enesta Jones] So, Blaine, what is green power and how does it help to fight climate change? [Blaine Collison] Well, Enesta, green power is environmentally preferable electricity. It’s generated from a set of renewable energy technologies: wind, solar, biomass, landfill gas, small scale hydro. And for most people and most organizations, electricity use is one of their largest, if not their largest, single source of pollution and emissions, and so green power is emissions-free electricity. [Enesta Jones] Tell us more about the Green Power Partnership and just how big it is in terms of numbers and purchases. [Blaine Collison] Sure. The partnership started in 2001, and we’re up to about 1,100 partners. They come from all sectors of the economy, public and private, big Fortune 500 organizations, small start-up businesses running out of the back bedroom, the entrepreneurs getting going, state and local and federal government agencies, colleges and universities. So there are about 1,100 of these organizations, and together they’re purchasing just shy of 16 billion kilowatt-hours of green power each year, which is about the amount of electricity needed to run 1.5 million average American homes per year. [Enesta Jones] Why is purchasing green power so important to protecting our environment? [Blaine Collison] Well, electricity generation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in the country, and so switching to green power for some portion of an organization’s electricity needs really helps to reduce the emissions associated with that usage. [Enesta Jones] Does green power play a role in creating green jobs? [Blaine Collison] It does. One of the really interesting things about green power and watching the increased development of green power across the U.S. is to see the impact on job creation. This is a new set of technologies, and it’s a set of technologies that requires manufacture, so for instance, there are new factories being built across the U.S. to build wind turbines and to build the towers for wind turbines and to manufacture solar cells. President Obama actually last week was out in Iowa paying a visit to a new wind turbine component plant that’s in an old Maytag facility. It’s out in Newton, Iowa. They had made Maytag appliances. The plant was shut a few years back, and now it’s part of the emerging green economy. And with the increased development of wind power, there are new domestic manufacturing jobs. They are making the energy technology that’s going to power the U.S. in the 21st century. [Enesta Jones] How does higher education play a role in the voluntary green power market? [Blaine Collison] Higher education is pretty interesting, right? There’s an enormous number of schools in this country. And they span an incredible size range from very small schools to schools that rank as small towns or cities in their own right. They all have electricity loads, and they all have a pretty interesting set of stakeholders in the students and faculty that have a very high commitment level to doing environmental stewardship and are looking for ways to improve their own environmental performance, so within the partnership, we’ve got almost 100 schools from all across the country, and again, from all over the size spectrum, and public, private, large land grant universities, small liberal arts private schools, that are making green power purchases. And together, those — I guess it’s about 82, 84 schools — it’s hard to keep actually current with the new partners coming in. They’re making almost 10 percent of the purchases in the overall program, so they’ve got a really interesting role, and they’ve been some of the really early leaders. Some of the schools were sort of first into the door. They found a really good alignment with their own operational and educational missions. And, in fact, we have enough schools in the program, they’ve been dynamic enough that we actually have a college and university green power challenge that we run. We’ve just concluded it for this year, and for the third year in a row, the University of Pennsylvania is the single largest collegiate purchaser of green power in the nation. [Enesta Jones] What options are available for prospective buyers? [Blaine Collison] There are actually three different ways you can go about getting green power. Your local utility may in fact have a green power product offering or a couple of green power product offerings. About a quarter of the utilities around the country have a green power product of some form or another. On-site systems are a possibility. A lot of organizations are looking at putting solar on their rooftops, or some of them are even doing small wind development on their own facilities. And the other option is Renewable Energy Certificates. This is actually one of the really interesting things about the green power market. Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECs, are in fact the separated environmental attributes of green power generation. So it’s just the pollution prevention. It’s just the lack of emissions. And those are available separately from the electrons that were generated along with them. So, it’s possible now for every single business and organization in the country, every single homeowner, every single apartment dweller, every single person living in a dorm room, if they want to, to go out in the open market and buy RECs. They can keep their existing electricity supply arrangements in place, which is pretty handy if you’re in an apartment and don’t have control or in a commercial space and don’t have the ability to select your electricity provider. But you can go out and get RECs. You can bring in the environmental savings, overlay that on your existing supply arrangements and be making a very important environmental contribution. [Enesta Jones] How do I find green power for my organization? [Blaine Collison] Come to our Web site. We have a tool on our Web site called the Green Power Locator. It will provide a listing, a state-by-state and a national list of green power providers all across the country. [Enesta Jones] Money is always an issue, especially now. How much does green power typically cost? [Blaine Collison] That’s a really interesting question, and I have to preface my answer by saying that green power costs can vary dramatically by technology and by region. So, for instance, in West Texas where the wind blows all the time, wind power is very inexpensive relative to — who shall I pick on? — solar power in Buffalo, New York, where I grew up, where the sun shines 100 days a year. You can do it there, but it’s more expensive, for instance, than West Texas wind. So there’s a wide range of prices. That said, on the residential side, we don’t get to see a lot of the commercial data, pricing data, because it’s considered proprietary. And it’s a highly competitive market. On the residential side, price premiums range, generally speaking, from an average of maybe half a cent a kilowatt- hour up to five cents a kilowatt-hour, 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, again, with the technology and geography a caveat. One thing that is worth noting, and this is really interesting and where you really start to see some of the benefits of green power, is it is possible in some scenarios that green power is actually less expensive, sort of straight up, open market competitive pricing than conventional generation, some of the solar services arrangements that are possible. The other thing that’s possible is fixed price green power offerings, so for instance, if you build a wind turbine, it’s going to sit and spin happily in the breeze for 10, 15, 20, 30 years. Because there’s no fuel input — right, you’re not buying coal to feed into a power plant — there’s no price volatility. So, it’s possible a number of vendors around the country, utilities and power providers, have actually been offering long term fixed price green power products to their customers, which makes it possible to both protect the environment and lock in price stability on your electricity consumption. [Enesta Jones] Let’s give our viewers some counsel. What should a buyer look for when their purchasing green power? [Blaine Collison] First and foremost, a certification. That’s probably the single most important thing to consider coming out of the gate looking at green power. There are a couple of independent third party certification standards in the market, and we strongly encourage prospective buyers to take a look at those. It’s an evolving market, and having certification provides a lot of good coverage and assurance for the buyer that they’re getting what they’re trying to get. They’re getting the environmental benefit. They’re getting the environmental protection. There’s been verification and auditing, and there’s no double counting. [Enesta Jones] This is a voluntary partnership. [Blaine Collison] It is. [Enesta Jones] Are there certain things that a company has to do in order to become a Green Power Partner? [Blaine Collison] We think we’re a pretty friendly program, so they have to do just a couple of things. They have to sign an agreement with us which says that we’re going to work nicely together. They have to make a qualifying green power purchase, and we have some guidelines on what resources are eligible and minimum purchasing requirements. And then they have to give us an update at least once a year, and that’s it. That’s the full and total set of requirements. [Enesta Jones]Thank you for being here today, Blaine. [Blaine Collison] Thank you very much. I enjoyed it. [Enesta Jones]For more information on EPA’s Green Power partnership and on green power purchases, visit the Green Power Partnership See you next time on Green Scene.

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