ENERGY: choosing clean power in California

California electricity customers are the first in the country who can vote green with their utility bills.

by Natural Resources Defense Council

Where Californians' electricity currently comes from:

35% Natural gas
24% Large hydro
17% Coal
14% Nuclear
11% Renewables

(Due to rounding, the tital is 101%)

eginning in 1998, California residents and businesses who are customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric (about three-quarters of all California customers) will, for the first time ever, be able to choose the company that supplies their electricity. Which means that consumers can also, for the first time, use their buying power to vote for cleaner, less polluting sources of electric power.

The reason? Electricity industry restructuring underway across the country. California is the first state to put utility competition into effect, but several other states will soon follow. As competition comes to California, so too do new competitors, and many are marketing their power supplies as environmentally beneficial. And not only are there new companies to choose from, but many companies offer several different energy mixes, which differ in price and in the types of resources used to generate the electricity. Sound confusing? It is! So we've evaluated the options in order to help you choose.


Choose wisely, but choose!

  If you want to reduce the impact your electricity use has on the environment, the worst choice you can make is no choice. No choice means you will receive the current California mix of power resources which is dirtier than any of the energy supplies we reviewed. By choosing cleaner power, you'll be sending a message to companies that they should invest more heavily in less polluting energy sources.


NRDC's evaluation criteria

  NRDC conducted an independent evaluation of all (to the best of our knowledge) energy mixes currently being marketed in California as environmentally beneficial, using the criteria set forth below.

1. The amount of renewable energy sources in the mix

To qualify as a renewable in our evaluation, the resource must be one of the following:

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal · Sustainable biomass
  • Environmentally-sound hydro

2. The amount of new renewables in the mix

New renewable facilities received extra value in our evaluation. While continued support of existing renewable capacity is crucial to the health of the industry, we want to encourage investment in new resources that will grow the renewables industry and make these environmentally preferable resources a bigger part of our electricity mix. We considered as new any renewable project that first generated electricity on or after September 26, 1996 the date of the enactment of California's utility restructuring legislation.


3. The amount and type of nonrenewable resources in the mix

Non-renewables will be a part of most electricity marketed as "green power," at least initially. Therefore our criteria did not disqualify products that rely on some non-renewable resources as long as the non-renewable portion of the mix does not contain a higher percentage of nuclear or coal than the current California resource mix, or greater emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide.


4. Disclosure

Our evaluation also took into account the quality and quantity of information that the company is making available to consumers about its energy mix.


The results


Based on currently available data supplied by the electric suppliers themselves, we've identified six different electricity "products" or energy mixes from four different companies as environmentally preferable choices. We did not attempt to rank the six products against one another.

Our listing of a product as environmentally preferable does not imply that it received a perfect score when measured against our criteria. All six of these energy mixes do, however, have substantially lower environmental impacts than the current California mix, and represent the "greenest" power options currently available.


The choices


The products are listed here in alphabetical order, not in order of environmental performance. NRDC's identification of these energy choices as environmentally preferable does not constitute an endorsement of any company or its products.

Enron's Earth Smart Power (800) 847-3366

Green Mountain's Energy Resources (888) 246-6730

PG&ES's Clean Choice 50 (888) 743-1700

PG&ES's Clean Choice 100

SMUD's (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) Greenergy Solar (916) 452-7811

SMUD's Greenergy


Renewable ...


A couple of notes about price: as of now, renewable energy is more expensive 10-20 percent more than the standard mix (it's worth it!). But electricity rates in California went down 10 percent in January, so you could very well end up paying about the same for clean energy this year as you did for dirtier power last year. You should also be aware that as part of the California utility restructuring legislation, funds were set aside to help offset the higher cost of renewable resources, so if you choose renewables, you may be eligible for a credit on your bill. Ask your electricity provider for more information. And one sure way to cut your electric bill is by cutting your electricity use through energy efficiency measures.

NRDC will establish and apply more detailed criteria as the market develops and more information becomes available, and will continually update their website: or contact them at or 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011; (212) 727-2700.