If you operate or manage a government building, "green" power may be in your future. New rules are calling for some of your electricity to be generated by technologies that, only a few years ago, were regarded only as fringe contributors to power grids.

Amidst the fallout and confusion rendered by electric deregulation, one bright spot has been a resurgence of interest in renewable power from such sources as hydro, wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar photovoltaics (PV). Renewables are generally credited with generating power that results in little, if any, of the usual pollutants and a major reduction in the carbon dioxide that is believed to contribute to global warming.

At the dawn of retail deregulation, many were surprised when residential customers, choosing their power suppliers for the first time, were willing to pay extra (typically 10% to 30% more) for power they believed to come from clean sources. In reality, the power one consumes is always a mix of whatever sources (clean or dirty) happen to be operating at the time of use: all of it flows into and out of the same grid. There is no way (short of disconnecting from the grid and running an on-site generator) to actually ensure that one's power comes from a specific source. The general logic, however, is that any increase in green power supply will reduce the overall pollution generated by all plants together.

Governments Prime The Pump

To boost the development and sales of those industries, the federal and some state and city governments have passed laws requiring a defined percentage of their buildings' loads be satisfied by renewable energy sources. Governments are often its largest single customer in an area due to its tremendous size and number of military, police, health, prison, office, transit, water treatment, school, and other governmental facilities.

Edicts to reduce power consumption in federal and state buildings in supply-constrained areas such as California and New York are now being accompanied by deadlines for purchasing 10% of power in federal buildings from green sources, and (in New York) up to 20%. Further spurring this change are rules built into deregulation laws that require utilities to either generate or secure a portion of the power they supply to their customers from green sources. Some governments (such as New Jersey) also see buying green power as a way of polishing their public images, even if that power costs 20% more than the dirty kind.

Such guaranteed markets greatly reduce the risk of such ventures and increase capital for financing, as well as expanding competition among them. As a result, investment in, and acquisitions of, green power technologies (especially wind) have blossomed. But how is a facility manager or procurement officer to address these requirements and opportunities?

Different Shades of Green

Some have already dipped their toes into the green power marketplace by including a requirement in RFPs for a portion of power bought from deregulated marketers to be from renewable sources. When first seen in California, many were skeptical of the results because a portion of all power was already generated from hydroelectric dams in the Northwest and geothermal units operating in that state since the 1960s. How would simply shuffling the existing supply among different buyers make any real difference in the amount of pollution being generated? Public Citizen, a watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader, issued "Green Buyers Beware" in late 1998, an expos¿f early green electricity products that still serves as a handy guidebook for power purchasers. (An executive summary may be found at http://www.citizen.org/press/greenreport.htm.

To help sort through a variety of suspect offerings, standards were developed to separate the "emerald" power from the "chartreuse" and "lime" products. For federal purchasers, the General Services Administration (GSA) has already established criteria for how to purchase green power through region-wide energy procurement contracts. To get a handle on the issues and options that government buyers may encounter, here are a few useful sites to check out.