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The Environmental Cost Of US Electricity

Sam Greyhawk

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Each day more and more forward thinking people are worrying about their personal carbon footprint. The understanding that we all share a single planet has motivated many people to consciously change patterns in their lives for the better of the planet. If you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint, then it's important you understand the impact of generating electricity on our environment.

Residential Electricity Generated by Fossil Fuels is the Third Largest Contributor of Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the US

Electricity is a basic part of nature, and it is one of our most widely used forms of energy. While it's possible to generate electricity in many “green" ways, the number one source of US electricity is coal. In 2006, nearly half (49%) of the country's 4.1 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity used coal as its source of energy.

Many power companies don't even offer consumers the option of using 100% renewable energy - even when consumers are willing to pay a higher rate. Why? If one ignores the pollution, generating electricity from fossil fuels such as coal is inexpensive and for many people willing to exploit our planet that is enough.

Fighting Against Big Coal

While Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas recently vetoed a bill to allow two more coal based power plants from being built in Kansas. It only took three days for a “new" proposal bill to come from the House committee which would allow for the coal fired plants construction. Why would the Governor of Kansas fight against the installation of the new power plants when it could mean more jobs for her constituents? Last October, Rod Bremby, the state secretary of health and environment stated the plants could potentially produce 11 million tons of CO2 a year.

4.1 Trillion Kilowatt Hours of Electricity

A number as large as 4.1 trillion is staggering, so what does that translate into for the average American household? The average US home uses 9,000 kilowatt hours a year. 9,000 kilowatt hours a year has the same environmental impact as:

  • Driving a Car 13,392 miles
  • Chopping Down 50 Trees

What You Can Do

While some of us fight to save our planet others look to exploit it that's why it is important for everyone to firmly understand the environmental cost of generating electricity from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. The key to stopping this exploitation is knowledge. If people understand the hard costs of the resources they use, they can make informed decisions. They can choose to be more energy efficient and conserve electricity.

Conserving Energy through Energy Efficiency

All of the small changes made individually can combine together to make a major impact. What can you do? The answer is simple - reduce the amount of energy you use. An easy way to do this is to use more energy efficient appliances, electronics and lighting. Energy efficient devices offer you the same quality of service but at a lower energy cost. Energy Star rated devices are a perfect example of energy efficiency, they can offer between 15-75% savings over comparable devices.

Energy Star

If you are looking to reduce your personal energy consumption then look for the Energy Star label. In 2006 alone Energy Star saved consumers over $14 billion on their utility bills. Translated into greenhouse gas emissions, in 2006 Energy Star prevented greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 25 million cars.

Remember fighting global climate change starts at home. Stopping global warming won't come from the single step of one individual, but rather through many small steps by many different people.

Sam Greyhawk is an energy efficiency evangelist who works with Cool-N-Save(tm), an Energy Star Partner based in Huntington Beach, California.

Cool-N-Save(tm) is an energy efficiency add-on for your existing air conditioner. In the hottest months your AC can use be responsible for up to 90% of your total monthly electric bill. Installed in ten minutes with no tools required the Cool-N-Save(tm) is an Energy Star Partner and has been scientifically proven by Tulane University to improve air conditioner efficiency by up to 30%. Saving energy helps fight global warming. Cool-N-Save(tm) is a low cost way for you to dramatically reduce your energy usage.


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