May 1, 2013

Choosing a Renewable Electricity Supplier Avoids Participating in Environmental Insults

To the Editor:

It is extremely encouraging that Sustainable Princeton (“In Honor of Earth Day, Sustainable Princeton Offers Advice on Best Sources of Green Energy,” mailbox. April 24), is urging everyone to consider choosing a renewable electricity supplier. About 35 percent of all U. S. carbon emissions are generated by burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, so that if we are to minimize climate change this source must be reduced substantially. Our local utility, according to PSE&G 2011 data, obtains about 31 percent of its electricity from coal, 17 percent from natural gas, 42 percent from nuclear reactors, and 10 percent from renewables. Thus, choosing all renewable electricity also avoids participation in numerous other environmental insults such as mountaintop removal (coal), nuclear reactor risk and nuclear waste storage (nuclear reactors), and hydraulic fracturing (natural gas).

Selecting a renewable electricity supplier is not as straightforward as it should be, but it’s possible, for example, through New Jersey’s Clean Power Choice Program ( We buy wind energy from a company listed on this site; this adds about $6 per month to our utility bill which we find completely affordable. Our electricity bill is exceptionally large (about $100/month) since we installed a heat pump to heat and cool our house and provide some hot water, but this means our home is virtually carbon-emission free.

It is somewhat disturbing but understandable that one should be forced to pay more for clean energy, but unfortunately dirty energy is almost always dirt cheap energy: that’s why it’s cheap. As fossil fuel prices have increased over the past ten years, the differential has narrowed considerably but still exists.

Thanks to deregulation and temporarily low U.S. natural gas prices, many independent power companies are bombarding New Jersey residents through bulk mailings, robot and cold telephone calls with offers of exceptionally low “teaser rates” for electricity. You should not be tempted by these offers, which say nothing at all about where or how power is generated. These companies buy the lowest cost power available, which will most likely be from coal-fired generators in the near future.

Climate change is such an overwhelming problem that there seems to be very little an individual can do. This is actually not the case, and every homeowner or apartment dweller has the possibility of substantially reducing their carbon emissions for just a few dollars per month by buying renewable electricity from the grid.

I hope Sustainable Princeton becomes a forceful advocate for this approach to reducing carbon emissions. As they note in their letter, widespread participation will send a powerful and unmistakable message that climate change is being taken seriously.

Al Cavallo

Western Way