David and Esmerelda run a small, 5-still whiskey distillery in the Catskills. They call it Catskill Stills. They’ve been working on this project for eight years and have been married for five. For them, their business is their lifestyle. Like the rest of their life, they try to work in positive, environmentally conscious ways. They go to yoga together at their local studio and buy their malt and rye from local farmers they’ve known for years. They bike to work in the morning, past the farmer’s market where they buy the fresh produce and eggs they cook their vegetarian masterpieces with. Together, they’ve figured out how to live and do business in ways that are healthy for themselves and for the environment. Except for in one area: electricity. Esmerelda and David worry about their electricity. Not because of how much it costs, but because of where it’s coming from. No matter what they do in their personal lives to live in an environmentally ethical way, running their stills requires using electricity produced by sources that harm the environment. They would be happy to install a windmill if they had the money, but they don’t. They’d install solar panels if they would provide enough energy, but they won’t. There’s not even a stream nearby to install a hydroelectric plant. So, a cloud hung over their happy business for years. Until someone knocked on their door and introduced herself as an employee of a third-party energy supplier. “Have you heard of renewable energy credits?” she asked. Just like that, the sun broke through the clouds.
Energy Options in New York State
In New York State, the bulk of energy consumed comes from burning natural gas. This is good news for businesses worried about creating carbon emissions from their energy sources, as natural gas is relatively clean. In fact, the burning of coal, which emits more carbon than any other power source, is among the least-used energy sources in New York, far behind nuclear, hydroelectric, and even biomass. So, business owners who want to power their operations in environmentally friendly ways have nothing to worry about, right? Well, not quite. It certainly helps that coal is among the least-used power sources in New York State. However, coal isn’t the only energy source that can damage the environment. Even though fracking – the process of drilling into the earth and injecting a high-pressure water mixture to release natural gas – isn’t allowed in New York, all that natural gas still has to come from somewhere. Due to its relative proximity, most of New York’s natural gas comes from right across the border in Pennsylvania, where fracking is legal. There’s a lot of back and forth on how safe or not safe this is for the environment, which is why it’s legal in Pennsylvania but not in New York. But nobody’s calling it green energy. Nuclear power, another large contributor to New York’s energy mix, also releases far fewer greenhouse gases than coal plants do. For the most part, it’s an ideal energy source: it’s cheap, it’s reliable, and it can generate an enormous amount of power. Putting aside the risk of meltdowns, the problem is what you do with the radioactive material after it’s no longer useable for power generation. These materials are carcinogenic, extremely difficult to dispose of, and remain deadly dangerous for thousands of years. Nuclear power is good for right now, but without safe storage for spent fuel, it creates serious issues for future generations. So for an environmentally ethical business owner, are there any options left? Absolutely.
Green Energy Options for New York Businesses
New York has an abundance of green energy. Hydroelectric energy is huge in the state and biomass energy, which creates power from burning renewable fuels, contributes heavily to the energy mix as well. Wind and solar do their part too, and their percentage of the mix is set to rise as offshore wind farms begin to come online in the next few years. Great! But how do you know that your electricity is green electricity, and not produced by coal, shale gas, or uranium? Well, for business owners who have a lot of money lying around to invest, it’s possible to install your own renewable energy generation on or off-site. With your own windmill or hydro-electric dam, there’s no question that you’re using green energy. Not all businesses have that option, however. Small and mid-size businesses, many of which are still recovering from the recession, don’t necessarily have the excess capital needed to invest in a proprietary power plant. Still, an option exists for these businesses—renewable energy credits.
Renewable Energy Credits Give Businesses Access to Green Power
Renewable energy credits allow businesses to purchase power generated by green sources. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual electricity they use will come straight from a windmill. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. First, power plants make energy. Pretty basic. Then, they take that energy to the market and sell it. Not to individual consumers, but to distributors like utility companies and third-party energy suppliers. These companies then sell the energy to consumers who are hooked up to the energy distribution system, commonly called “the grid”. So, when a consumer decides to buy renewable energy credits instead of regular, or brown, electricity, third-party energy suppliers turn around and buy that customer’s electricity from a renewable source, like a windmill or solar panels. That way, businesses can know for sure that their electricity is purchased from a renewable source. However, once electricity enters the grid, whether it comes from coal or solar, nuclear or natural gas, it’s all the same. Electricity is electricity. There’s no way for energy suppliers to ensure that the energy that ends up getting delivered to a customer comes from a renewable source, because it all mixes together. Still, the net result is the same—the amount of power a business uses will come from a renewable source. So if you’re David and Esmerelda, who want to go green but don’t have a nearby stream, buying renewable energy credits can help you come one step closer to living your dream. It isn’t just whiskey distillers that can go green this way. No matter what business you operate in New York, from a local coffee-shop to a distribution hub to a retail chain, you can help preserve your environment with renewable energy credits. At Liberty Power, we want to help you live the way that makes you happy. That’s why we partner with power plants to sell renewable energy credits to our customers. Check out our info on renewable energy credits to learn how they can help you run your business the way you always wanted to.
Image Credit: Karsten Würth