Paying Extra for Green Power and Getting Ads Instead

By Kate Galbraith

The solicitations have been flooding people’s mailboxes lately: pay a bit more on your electricity bill for 100 percent clean wind power. Or, the fliers say, buy “green power certificates” to offset your global warming emissions.

Close to a million electricity customers have signed up for such payments voluntarily, and the amount of electricity sold in this way has nearly tripled since 2005, amid rising concern about climate change and energy security. But the participants are in a distinct minority, with a sign-up rate of only about 2 percent in programs run by utilities.

The low sign-up rate raises a question: If large majorities of Americans favor increased government support for clean energy, as polls suggest, why are so many people reluctant to back such programs when it comes to paying extra themselves?

Why Don’t More Subscribe?

One reason might be that they think the added expense is too high. Solar and wind power generally cost more than power generated with fossil fuels. While many people support alternative energy in principle, they personally may not want to spend hundreds of dollars more for electricity, especially in the current economic environment.

But in the back of some people’s minds, there may be another issue: Do these programs really cause more renewable energy projects to get built? The government has looked at the question, and says it is difficult to draw an overall conclusion. Its experts say they believe that some green power programs work better than others.

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