Easy being green

Here’s a tip for everyone who’s ever cursed our country’s dependence on fossil fuels, worried about the safety of nuclear power or choked on the brown haze that sometimes passes for air in Sacramento: You need to sign up for SMUD’s Greenergy program.

As summer grinds on, as the air gets dirtier and as we all send our electric meters spinning as we burn the kilowatts trying to keep cool, it’s a good time to consider where our electric power comes from and the impact power generation has on the environment. Only about 4 percent of the power used in California comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal sources, while seven times that still comes from pollution-spewing coal plants.

That needs to change, and for as little as $3 a month, you can change it by enrolling in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Greenergy program.

The program, which began in 1997, offers consumers a chance to pay a small monthly fee in order to guarantee that a percentage of the electricity they use will come from eligible renewable sources: biomass (power generated from landfill gas produced by waste degeneration), geothermal, solar, wind and small-scale hydroelectric generation. For $3 per month, you can make sure that half the amount of power you use will come from renewable sources. For $6 per month, you can make that 100 percent.

And it gets better: For every dollar you pay in premiums, SMUD will put 40 cents toward the construction of green energy sources to serve Sacramento. That’s important because, as some critics have pointed out, some “green energy” programs merely shift the way power is distributed from renewable and nonrenewable sources, and don’t really contribute to the generation of green energy. In the case of SMUD’s program, the utility company is obligated to spend a significant amount of the program premiums on building new green power facilities.

It’s a great program, and it’s drawn a lot of support. About 28,000 residential customers and around 1,300 area businesses are signed up, including Arden Fair mall, the Sacramento Kings, Borders Books, Jamba Juice and the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. (In fact, from now until August 31, you can get a $10 gift certificate at the co-op for signing up.)

But does the program really make a difference? You bet it does. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 100-percent Greenergy program membership has the same environmental impact as planting an acre of trees, or not driving your car for eight months.

And there’s an even bigger issue at stake: If you know the danger of this country’s dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels, you need to put your money where your mouth is and help promote change. The people running the country right now are pretty smug in their belief that Americans just want to go on driving gas guzzlers, burning coal and hoping global warming isn’t real until the last scrap of fossil fuel disappears out of somebody’s exhaust pipe.

Let’s prove them wrong. Call SMUD at (888) 742-7683 or sign up online at http://smud.org to start things moving in a more positive direction.