Electric bills will shine light on renewable energy

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RICHMOND

Virginians will notice a change with their monthly electric bills next year. Before you get up to turn off all the lights and unplug your appliances, know that it is a small change that wont affect the price of electricity.

A new law requires investor-owned electric companies to make it easier for customers to access information about using renewable energy.

House Bill 1228, sponsored by Del. Margaret Vanderhye (D-McLean) requires electric companies to place a toll-free number directing customers to information on how they can receive their power from renewable resources. The requirement takes effect Jan. 1.

Obtaining electricity from renewable resources is not a new idea the U.S. Energy Information Administration has data on renewable energy from 1949. But it is gaining popularity with both consumers and electric companies.

The company has a goal of producing 12 percent of its energy in Virginia from renewable sources by 2022, said Jim Norvelle, a spokesperson for Dominion Resources.

The goal of producing 12 percent of energy from renewable sources is not just an effort being made by Dominion; its statewide. In 2007, Gov. Tim Kaine (D) signed a bill establishing voluntary guidelines for Virginia businesses to increase the amount energy being produced using renewable sources.

Virginia defines renewable energy as energy derived from sunlight, wind, falling water, sustainable biomass, energy from waste, wave motion, tides and geothermal power, and does not include energy derived from coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power.

Of all the electricity generated in the United States in 2004, 6 percent came from renewable energy sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. The agency also reported that the use of renewable energy increased from 3.93 quadrillion btu in 2005 to 4.23 btu in 2006, an increase of 7 percent.

Currently, the electricity sectors consume nearly two-thirds of all renewable energy produced, the Energy Information Administration reports. Electric companies have a wide array of renewable sources to choose from, including wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass/waste and solar.

There are many factors involved when electricity companies decide which energy source to use.

There are tradeoffs with any generation source, Norvelle said. For example, the wind is free, but sometimes the wind doesn’t blow.

As with any newer energy source, renewable energy sources often require some time before all the kinks are worked out. Those kinks, representatives say, can cause customer-angering lapses in service.

An electric company in Texas that relied heavily on wind power had to take drastic measures to prevent blackouts in February, after the wind stopped blowing for a period of time.

Another reported drawback of renewable energy is that it is generally more costly, Norvelle said. Delegate Vanderhye and a majority of other General Assembly members saw the benefits of renewable energy when they passed the bill in the end of February.

Scientists say that using renewable energy diversifies the United States energy market, reducing the likelihood of a complete energy shortage.

Since most renewables do not depend on fuel markets, they are not subject to price fluctuations resulting from increased demand, decreased supply, or manipulation of the market, the Union of Concerned Scientists says on its Web site.

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