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Electricity is a secondary product. It needs to be produced. It’s not like water, where you turn on the faucet, and it appears. It’s not like oil that comes out of the ground and gets refined into gasoline. Electricity needs to be created.

Sadly, most of the electricity you use every day is made using fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil. Burning these fuels to make electricity is a major source of air pollution, smog and CO2 emissions, all of which affect human and plant health. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and lead do not belong in our air!

Some electric plants use nuclear power to create electricity. Splitting atoms is a clean process, but the radioactive waste is toxic, as we have seen at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Spent fuel rods pose serious health and environmental dangers for thousands of years. They cannot be recycled, either, so nuclear engineers hope they can store them out of the way underground for eternity. Color me skeptical.

Renewable ways to produce electricity

Renewable energy can replace the damaging fuels we use to make electricity. Wind farms, solar farms and biomass plants are being built around the globe to reduce the need for fossil fuels, reduce CO2 emissions and curb air pollution. Geothermal energy harnesses the earth’s heat not too far below the surface. Hydropower is listed as being renewable and clean, but dams ruin ecosystems and people’s livelihoods, so I don’t see it as environmentally friendly.

Conserving, and producing, the energy you use at home

The first thing a homeowner or business owner can do to green up their electric use is to conserve. Consider an energy audit to locate waste and get recommendations on conserving electricity. Small things like changing light bulbs and using window coverings can make a big difference. Installing an efficient heating and cooling (HVAC) system will definitely cut energy use and save money.

Generating your own power with solar panels or a wind turbine cuts emissions completely for you. These systems are getting so affordable, they have a high and return on investment (ROI), meaning your electricity is free once the initial costs has been covered through savings.

If you cannot generate your own power, due to zoning, the location of your building your finances or your neighborhood association regulations, you can probably buy green power from your utility company. Find out on this map.

Green Power programs in your area

Green Power programs differ everywhere depending on resources available and how a utility prices renewable energy.

Ours is voluntary, and I pay only $2.20 a month based on how many hundreds of kWh (kilowatt hours) I used in that billing cycle. That fee is also contingent on the wholesale price of energy, so it fluctuates. I can pay more if I choose, but this is the minimum.

Money generated supports the development of renewable energy sources for the electric co-op to which I belong as well as to the wholesale supplier where our power originates. I contribute to solar, wind, hog methane biomass and hydropower.

The fee I pay most likely does not fund power that goes directly to my house. Instead, clean energy gets added to the grid to reduce the need for coal, gas, oil and nuclear power. Most of our local power comes from burning coal, though.

The more people demand alternative energy, the more viable it will be

Contact your utility to see if they have a Green Power program, and enroll in it! As more people ask for clean energy, demand will increase, and utilities will be under pressure to provide. Some states have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires them to use a certain amount of renewable energy each year. Buying green power from your electric company may help fulfill that requirement.

There are plenty of natural resources for generating electricity that do not harm the environment and human health. Start by conserving energy, and then find a way to get renewable energy into your life.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.