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'Green' definition generates debate

In many ways, the definition of green power - like art - remains in the eye of the beholder. Most experts agree that power from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass sources qualify. A new technology, fuel cells, will likely earn the "green power" moniker, too, if researchers can make them a feasible energy alternative.

But after that, things get dicey.

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For example, biomass (the burning of waste from sawmills and farms to create electricity) causes more pollution than hydroelectricity. But many environmentalists don't like hydro-power dams because they block fish runs and change river flows. Some advocates draw a distinction between big or "high-impact" dams and "low-impact" hydro facilities. The latter qualify as green power, they say.

What about natural gas? A new generation of combined-cycle combustion turbines produce energy far more efficiently and cleanly than other fossil-fuel energy plants. But many green-power advocates reject the technology because it's not renewable, and gas-drilling can damage the environment.

So how's a consumer to tell "green" from "near-green"? If you're located in a state that has deregulated its energy and are considering participating in a utility's green-power program, find out what fuel sources the utility calls green. For more information on green power, contact the Renewable Energy Policy Project (www.repp.org) or the Green-e Renewable Electricity Certification Program (www.green-e.org). The Green-e program actually certifies utilities' programs that meet its standards.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society