I recently read about a program launched by Florida Power and Light to test whether consumers are willing to pay to pursue their environmental principles. For every customer who signs up for FP&L's Sunshine Energy‚ Program, the company will buy power from "green" technology, such as solar, geothermal, hydro and wind, which will help reduce air pollution. Making electricity causes more CO2 air pollution than all the cars and trucks on the road combined. As the leading cause of industrial air pollution in the U.S., electricity production is said to generate approximately:

  • 67% of all sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions - a pollutant that causes acid rain
  • 25% of all nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions - a pollutant that causes smog
  • 40% of all human-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - a greenhouse gas that causes global warming
  • 33% of all mercury emissions - a heavy metal that is dangerous to humans and animals

FPL's voluntary program is similar to other programs offered around the country, all of which help support a fledging alternative-energy industry to compete with less expensive fossil-fuel energy producers. But here's the catch. Signing up for the program doesn't necessarily mean that customers will actually use "cleaner" power, because most are plugged into the same electrical grid, which also provides energy from conventional fossil-fuel power plants that produce pollutants, such as carbon dioxide. So why bother? FP&L points out that this is one important way you can help reduce air pollution. Every Sunshine Energy customer can prevent the discharge of over 11,000 pounds of CO2 emissions nationwide annually-as much as a car would produce in over 11,000 miles of driving.

This is how it works. Regardless of your actual electricity use each month, Sunshine Energy ensures that environmental credits associated with 1,000 KWH of electricity are produced by cleaner generators serving Florida and other states nationwide. The consumer's purchase represents the environmental benefits to the regions where the cleaner generators are located. These generation sources are cleaner than the fossil fuel sources most widely used across the U.S. FP&L will purchase the power from Green Mountain Energy Co. in Austin, Texas.

Green Mountain Energy Co. claims to be the largest retail provider of less-polluting electricity in the U.S. It offers an electricity product that is cleaner and reliable. The company buys electricity from less-polluting sources including wind, water, solar, biomass, geothermal, and natural gas. Geothermal energy comes from heat trapped within the earth's crust. Geothermal power plants tap steam and hot water trapped underground to convert that energy into electricity. Wind energy comes from tower-mounted turbines.

According to FP&L, the benefits associated with cleaner energy won't necessarily directly affect the consumer for the nearly $10 surcharge, but it will benefit the country as a whole. This sounds like a step in the right direction. But will consumers pay for it? IH