by Bill Sherrod, Editor
cooperatives are working toward a “greener” tomorrow.
As Kermit the Frog once famously
proclaimed, it’s not easy being green.
But it seems that green is where the
world’s headed. At least, in an environmental sense, we here in the U.S.
are moving inexorably toward a profound awareness of and concern with things
green, in everything from power generation to laundry detergent.
The idea, simply, is to do what we can
to help Mother Earth, by reducing carbon emissions, by helping to keep the
air and water clean — in general, making the world a better place for
And of course, while we’re at it, we
have to ensure that there’s an adequate supply of electricity to meet our
burgeoning demand for games, gadgets and all things electric.
So what does this mean for you, as a
member-owner of an electric cooperative utility in the Commonwealth of Virginia?
What is green power?
“‘Green power’ typically refers
to a source of energy produced by a renewable type of fuel,” says Lisa
Johnson, senior vice president of power supply for Old Dominion Electric
(ODEC). Twelve electric cooperatives, including 10 of
Virginia’s 13, receive their wholesale power supply from ODEC.
Renewable fuels, Johnson continues, can
be grown, such as wood, switch grass, or other “biomass” materials; they
can occur naturally in the environment, such as sun, wind or tides; or they
can come from recycling waste, such as the methane gas created naturally in
landfills and animal waste.
And why is green power important? What
about green power makes it something that we should pursue?
“If you can find sources of fuel that
are renewable, you can decrease the need to dip into finite resources,”
notes Johnson. “Plus, people who oppose burning fossil fuels contend that
if you’re not burning them, you’ll reduce certain point-source emissions
like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury.”
Finally, Johnson adds, “Renewable
resources are things we can find around us that can help us move away from
reliance on foreign energy sources.”
Pete Gallini, director of power supply
for ODEC, adds that additional benefits may result from expanded use of
green-power fuel sources. For example, one effect of planting trees and
other flora to produce biomass might be that even more carbon dioxide
is removed from the atmosphere, by the very plants that are being cultivated
as biomass fuel sources.
“It’s a challenge to find these
sources of fuel in every part of the country,” Johnson points out. And
there are complex variables involved in determining the real value of a fuel
For example, wind and solar power are
good fuel sources, but they only happen when they happen. If the wind’s
not blowing or the sun’s not shining, there’s no electricity being
“One of the big challenges with
renewables is finding consistency,” Johnson continues. “A forest fire
can deplete the supply of wood waste (from a cutover tract) after a contract
has already been made to use that same wastewood as a renewable fuel
resource. Some of these renewable resources have significant risk as a
constant, reliable fuel supply.”
And according to Gallini, “The reason
many of these fuel resources aren’t used more right now is that they’re
more expensive than traditional fuel sources. But the cost of some of these
alternative fuel forms has been coming down the past decade, so their use
has become more common.”
About half of the power that ODEC’s 12
member cooperatives require is provided by generation assets it owns,
including a 50-percent interest in the coal-fired Clover Power Station and
an 11.6-percent interest in North Anna Nuclear Power Station. ODEC also owns
gas-fired peaking turbines in Louisa
County, and Cecil County, Md.
For the portion of its members’ power
requirements that it does not own, ODEC negotiates contracts from various
suppliers in the energy market. Some of these suppliers are “green,” and
more green power is becoming available.
In addition to a small amount of
hydro-electric energy the Virginia electric cooperatives receive from
Southeast Power Administration dams, ODEC purchases some of its power from a
landfill gas generator in Northern Virginia, and in the past has had some
wastewood generation, according to Johnson.
“We’re currently exploring
opportunities for energy produced from wastewood,
animal waste, landfill gas, switch grass (biomass), and additional
conventional hydro power,” she adds. “Our challenge is in balancing cost
and reliability with the value of the green resource.”
Another Reason to ‘Buy
Physical proximity is a very important consideration in developing
reliable “green” energy resources. “Most of the project developers
we’re talking to are in our area,” notes Gallini.
It’s important, for many reasons, to
try and buy locally when looking at renewable energy resources, Johnson
adds. For example, using a local renewable
resource — such as wastewood from a cutover tract near a wastewood-burning
generator — means that you don’t have to pay as much for transporting
the renewable resource from farther afield; plus, you save a finite
resource, the fuel needed to transport the wastewood. And there is a
reduction in emissions from transportation when the source is nearby.
“Biomass as a ‘green’ fuel
resource probably makes the most sense for us,” Johnson adds.
“Wastewood, switch grass, landfill gas, and animal waste — much of this
fits right in with the agricultural profile of many of our co-ops’
members,” she notes.
“We’re also looking at the concept
of participating in a national renewable-energy cooperative,” Johnson
And every cooperative in
is actively working toward improving its energy-efficiency profile, from
encouraging use of compact-fluorescent lamps and energy audits to promoting
peak-demand energy reduction through use of water-heater-switch programs,
“If we’re doing our job and
fulfilling the cooperative mission, we have to consider reliability,
environmental balance, and cost effectiveness in everything we do relative
to power supply,” Johnson says.
And since there isn’t an easy, perfect
solution for balancing these three elements, “Our job is ensuring that we
have the best possible pieces of all three of these for our members,”
Kermit’s famous lament — his
amphibian angst — may indeed be true in today’s world: it’s not easy
But it’s a worthy goal, and one that Virginia
’s consumer-owned electric cooperatives are actively pursuing.