Posted by Brian @ 12:09 am on April 17th 2006

Nothing to be proud of

I hear frequently that Portland ranks second in the nation for households using green power. Sounds impressive. After all, we’re a hub of sustainability, right?

But then I looked at the numbers. Despite having over two million people in the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton area (according to 2004 State figures), and approximately 1 million households, only a pathetic 33,000 of those have signed up for green energy. That’s a hair over 3 percent. Even if we limit ourselves to the 350,000 or so households in Multnomah county, that’s not even 1 in 10.

1 in 10? That’s nothing to be proud of. That’s an embarrassment.

What is the story with that? Could it be the cost, which amounts to $8 or so on the average bill per month? Is that too high a price to pay for renewable energy? I can’t believe that.

Could it be the difficulty of signing up? I bump into happy green energy elves at nearly every event I go to, eagerly hoping to sign people up. Rarely do I see anyone at their tables. Are we just too busy to fill out our name and address?

I get colorful exhortations to go green along with my power bill, presumably others do as well. I recycle all junk mail without even a glance, so perhaps nobody else looks at the cheerful little signup forms.

Maybe it’s because we feel that since most of our power is already renewable it’s not a big deal. That may be the perception but the facts are different. Yes, 46.5% of our energy is renewable through standard PGE service. The bad news is that most of the rest of the power comes from burning coal. That’s right – coal, which ranks about dead last on green energy, makes up for an appalling 39.7% of our energy here. Another 11.2% comes from natural gas. So actually most of our energy is from non-renewable sources.

My feeling is that most people think either we’re already there or that other people will shoulder the burden. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. Renewable energy is cheaper than it has ever been. In fact, it’s cheaper than building any other form of power. But nobody is going to build them unless people demand them. All we have to do is ask, and pay about twenty-five cents a day.

Are you among the 90%+ who haven’t yet signed up for green energy in Portland? What is it going to take?