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Investing in renewable energy sources
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"It's called green power," Bolding says, "but you're not actually getting that power. What you're getting is the green. That is, you own that kilowatt-hour of green energy. You're not guaranteed that it's being delivered straight to your home, but it is being delivered to the grid."

While there's no savings -- it's more of an investment in the planet -- the plan gives participants a foot soldier's role on the environmental battlefield.

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"Consumers can pick and choose, and many plans offer choices such as going 50-50 instead of 100 percent," Bolding says. "Some dealers also sell packages where you can buy a block of, say, 100 kilowatt-hours for $65."

Those without that option can offset their energy use by purchasing tradable renewable certificates, sold nationally by independent providers.

These certificates represent a trade-off of power on the national grid from nonrenewable sources to power from renewable sources. Many large corporations such as FedEx Kinkos, Staples, Johnson & Johnson and Pitney Bowes choose this alternative, Bolding says, "either for the public-relations value, or because they have an environmental mission."

The Center for Resource Solutions plays a major role in all this by ensuring that consumers get what they pay for through Green-e, a voluntary renewable energy certification program.

"Renewable energy can qualify for certification if it meets our requirements," says Bolding. "Utility companies and independent providers apply to have us certify that everything they buy is delivered into the grid in the same quantity and content. We also check all their marketing materials to see that they are actually selling what they are promoting."

The cost of going green is "just hard to nail down," Bolding says. For openers, she says, "the cost of renewable energy varies on the type you buy." Solar is far more expensive than landfill gas or wind, and is not as cost-competitive.

Still, Bolding says, "wind and solar are the sexiest, so people want to buy them."

Over time, the cost of fossil fuels may play the largest role in the average person's decision to jump on the green bandwagon. Right now U.S. citizens spend $160 billion a year to run their appliances, stay warm or cool and light their homes, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

While the gap between green and traditional energy sources is narrowing, Richarme says, it's obviously going to take the participation of a lot more people to make a difference.

"Lacking federal incentives," he says, "it will take a major life change such as buying a new house" before the average consumer will consider a change to using alternative energy sources.

Next: The idea is to reduce average household enery costs by 10 percent
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