In New York City, electricity is a lot like Chinese food. It's ubiquitous, available for delivery right to your home, and is made with lots and lots of oil. But unlike a good Chinese restaurant, Con Edison, the electricity provider for almost all of New York City, has a menu with only one choice. And until recently, if you didn't like that choice, well that was just too bad. Theirs was the only gig in town. But the days of one-electron-fits-all have come to an end. Now anyone who thinks that their electricity should come from sources that don't pollute, don't come from the Middle East, don't contribute to climate change, and don't double as weapons of mass destruction, can pick up the phone and order a new utility product called "Green Power."
Green power is electricity generated from pollution free, renewable energy, like wind, solar, and small scale, "run of the river" (i.e. no dams) hydropower. The two companies now offering green power to customers in the Con Ed service area are ConEdison Solutions (
Con Ed's electricity comes from a mix of sources including the oil and gas burning plants that line the East River, the Indian Point nuclear plant located 35 miles up the Hudson, and an assorted blend of other upstate power. ConEdison Solutions and 1st Rochdale, on the other hand, sell electricity that comes from a mix of wind and run-of-the-river hydro. Con Ed Solutions' mix is 25 percent wind, 75 percent hydro, and 1st Rochdale's mix is 40 percent wind, 60 percent hydro. And in the future, 1st Rochdale hopes to offer even better green power packages, including one with a five percent solar component, sourced from roof-top installations located within New York City.
So far, business has been nothing but good for both companies. According to Tom Thompson of 1st Rochdale, almost all of the existing 200 megawatts of in-state wind power is already being supplied to existing green power subscribers. This sends a very real and meaningful signal to the developers of renewable energy projects, not to mention energy planners and politicians, that there is a market for their products, and that they can confidently build new renewable generators to meet the energy demands of the future.
Admittedly, the switch to green power can be somewhat underwhelming. Nothing perceptible happens and everything works exactly as it did before. But on the supply side, some very clever legal wrangling is going on to make sure that every unit of green power purchased is matched with a unit of green power produced. The way it works is that each unit of green electricity generated results in a "renewable energy credit" or "green tag." The credit itself is only a piece of paper; a legal certificate that merely states that a given amount of electricity is indeed "green," or from the renewable source that it claims to be from. These credits are stamped by a third party so it's all on the up-and-up and there's no double counting, and are then purchased on the wholesale market by green power marketers. Con Ed Solutions has partnered with a company called Community Energy to be its supplier of green credits, while 1st Rochdale uses a company called Sterling Planet. In fact, if you wanted to, you could keep your regular Con Ed electricity service and buy the credits directly from the wholesalers. Brooklyn Brewery did just this, when in the summer of 2003, with much beer and merriment to mark the occasion, it arranged to "green" its existing Con Ed electricity using renewable credits sold through Community Energy. For a list of New York green power wholesalers, visit