Green power: within easy reach for anyone

by Carl Duivenvoorden

Two months ago, I finally did it: I switched my home to green power.  Every kilowatt-hour of electricity our family uses now originates from renewable sources like wind and low-impact hydro. 

The good news is that green power is available right now to any New Brunswicker.  It’s reliable, affordable, easy to get and indistinguishable from regular electricity.

What it is
By definition, green power is electricity that is produced from energy sources that are renewable and have a low environmental impact relative to coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and large-scale hydro.  In Canada, green power standards are set by Environment Canada.  Power suppliers must meet strict criteria in order to be certified as green, and only certified suppliers are permitted to use the EcoLogo as proof that they are legitimate suppliers of green power.  That means if average consumers like you or me want green power, all we need to do is look for a power supplier with the EcoLogo certification and buy our power through them.

How it works
“But wait a minute,” you wonder.  “I get my power from Saint John Energy, NB Power or one of the province's other suppliers.  Let’s say I find a certified green power supplier and want to sign up… does that mean I have to get a new set of power lines run from that green power source directly to my home?”

Fortunately, the answer to that question is no – green power can be supplied via your existing power lines.  It’s true that you could have new lines installed from a distant green power source directly to your home, but that would be prohibitively expensive.  A better way is to simply use the region’s existing grid, which already links all power producers and users.  And that’s what green power suppliers do: they upload their electricity to the existing grid at the point of generation, and customers draw their power from the grid as usual at the point of use.

“But wait a minute,” you wonder again.  “That means the kilowatt-hours I use aren’t the precise kilowatt-hours produced by my green power supplier.”

That’s true, in a way: once uploaded to the power grid, a kilowatt-hour from a wind turbine is indistinguishable from a kilowatt-hour from coal.  But it doesn’t really matter, because when you buy green power, you are creating more demand for more green power to be generated, and that helps drive the development of still more green power projects. 

It may sound complicated, but it’s really plain old supply and demand.  Just as the organic section of a supermarket would expand if more consumers demanded organic food, green power production would expand if more consumers demanded green power.

An example: Bullfrog
My certified green power provider is Bullfrog Power (www.bullfrogpower.com).  Bullfrog buys blocks of power from the St. George Hydro Plant and PEI’s West Cape Wind Farm, and resells it to me and other customers in the region.  Tight auditing of the company ensures that it can’t sell more power than it buys.  As more customers sign on with Bullfrog, more green power will be demanded.  And when all the present green power within our region is spoken for, Bullfrog will help develop new sources of green power.  So my energy dollars are helping create a greener grid powered by more and more renewables.  I like that.

Signing up was simple: it took less than 10 minutes via the company’s website.  I still get my regular power bill from my NB-based provider each month, and I pay a small premium directly to Bullfrog to lock into my share of that green power they buy.

Yes, green power is slightly more expensive than conventional power.  Bullfrog’s premium is two cents per kilowatt-hour – in my case, about $10 per month.  To our family, that is a small price to pay for making our home carbon-neutral; it’s way less than the cost of solar panels on the roof.  It’s also a small way we can help push the electricity market in the direction it needs to go, toward more low-impact renewables. 

Nationally, Bullfrog’s customer list includes well-known companies like WalMart, BMO, Unilever and Kraft.

If you’d like to make your home or business carbon-neutral, consider green power.  Easy, affordable and available to all.