There are pieces of legislation in the works in all 50 states which would sponsor the deregulation of energy production. What this means, at its core, is that people would have the right and ability to choose which power company provides their power.
The Environmental Upside
The deregulation of the energy market is designed to create competition in the market, and encourage energy producers to lower their prices, but perhaps the greater power of the law is giving people the freedom to choose. Freedom of choice in many cases will not mean selecting the cheapest of the competitors, but instead selecting the energy provider who has the most environmentally conscious approach. It is important for consumers to understand how energy is harnessed and what the impact of each electricity generating plan has on the environment.
Fossil fuel burning is, by far, the most common way to generate electricity, but this method is also the one known to have the most widespread negative effect on the environment. Airborne pollutants are released when fossil fuels are burned, and eventually travel into the global air and water supplies, thus further degrading the environment around us. This method of energy production also calls for fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource, to be removed in large quantities from the depths of the earth in order to power substations, cars and other fuel powered devices everywhere. Over time, the worldwide oil reserves will be depleted to the point that using fossil fuels as the primary global energy source will no longer be possible.
Nuclear power is relatively safe when contained, but the destruction of Japan’s nuclear energy sources during the earthquakes at Fukushima demonstrated just how volatile it is as an energy source. The risk of nuclear contamination in the event of catastrophic destruction is very real, and cannot be ignored. Shutting down a nuclear power plant is also extremely complex, because it leaves a massive amount of nuclear waste to be contained and disposed of.
Solar power is generated by collecting light into glass panels that store the energy in batteries and convert that energy to electricity as needed. There is no residual energy to be passed on to other consumers. When solar panels are used, all the energy harnessed must be used on site. The upside to solar energy that there is no negative impact of the environment as a result of the collection on a small scale; however, large solar panel units take up a large area, and may produce a concerning amount of heat.
Hydro power is generated by damming water and harnessing the energy of the current to generate electricity. In some locations, the damming of water allows the flow of water to be controlled and slowed, preventing flooding and erosion. Downstream, however, the effects of daming water can be severely detrimental. Side effects on the local water ecology can include changes in fish migration, flooding, interruption of the natural hydrological cycle, and more. The use of low-head dams, specifically, seem to generate a profitable amount of energy without posing any notable threats to the environments surrounding them.
Wind energy is one of the biggest pushes in environmentally friendly energy production, but with the number of turbine windmill sites increasing, their negative effects on the environment are becoming more clear. Initial complaints of residents living in areas with a wind farm include visual pollution, related noise, and TV signal disruption. A larger environmental concern, however, has occurred in areas where more than 50 turbines were erected. In these areas, the migratory pattern of birds and bats have been altered as a direct result of the windmills’ presence.
The deregulation of energy will give consumers the opportunity to choose where their electricity comes from, so research the energy services in your area, and find out how their power is generated. Every energy source has a unique set of pros and cons. Look at the short and long term benefits of using each energy source, and weigh them against its effects on the environment.
Natasha Risinger is a community organizer. She write regularly on subjects that matter to everyday people. For information about energy community outreach programs, check out TXU Energy.