Change your energy supplier - and help clean up the planet

Switching supplier could reduce your emissions, and may not be more expensive. By Helen Monks
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onsumers worried about climate change are being asked by the Government to take a closer look at their next electricity bill and think about switching to the greenest suppliers. As the cold snap bites, ministers hope the more consumers think about where their energy comes from, the greater their contribution will be to minimising damage to the environment.

New laws introduced this year require energy firms to tell customers how much of their electricity is generated from renewable fuel sources, such as hydro-power, wind and solar power.

"Fuel mix disclosure" boxes, which customers are likely to find on the back of their bills over the coming months, show the proportion of energy sources used to produce the electricity - including coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable - compared with the average UK figures. The statements also give details of your energy supplier's carbon emissions and radioactive waste.

"To help tackle global warming, consumers need to make informed choices and fuel disclosure is a key ingredient in helping people to do that," says energy minister Malcolm Wicks. "If you're concerned about global warming and CO2 emissions, take a closer look at your next bill."

However, price comparison service Uswitch says that while the fuel disclosure mix boxes should in theory make it easier to spot the big polluters, many people may find the reality rather less useful. First, while the new regulations came into effect in October, electricity suppliers are only required to send fuel mix breakdowns on bills or statements once a year, so customers may have to wait until next September to find out about their supplier's record.

Also, the guidelines on the presentation of information do not demand a standard format. That may make it difficult for people to compare suppliers. In any case, each household will only ever see their own bills.

If you don't want to wait, independent consumer website provides environmental information on the electricity industry, including full details on the fuel mix of most UK suppliers. Anyone can compare their supplier's proportion of green energy with others in a matter of seconds.

However, given that going for electricity generated from renewable energy sources might add around £30 annually to electricity bills, it's important to find the cheapest suppliers. There are around 15 green tariffs available across the UK, including offers from specialist and mainstream suppliers.

Utility website offers an online price comparison specifically for green energy. Alternatively, or can help consumers find the most competitive green packages.

However, check what you're getting. Good Energy - a supplier of 100 per cent renewable electricity - warns that many of the green tariffs do not match the government obligation that a small percentage of energy comes from renewable sources.

The UK has a Kyoto commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, and a target of 10 per cent of all electricity generation from renewables by 2010.

Good Energy recommends customers who want to have the most positive impact should check how much renewable electricity is actually supplied in the tariff, whether this is independently verified and whether this proportion meets the government's obligations.

As a benchmark, the company says its average customer saves 2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent of driving 5,000 miles in a petrol car. The average UK household emits 6 tonnes of CO2 a year, so a 100 per cent renewable electricity supply can reduce your households emissions by up to a third.

If you're not prepared to pay more, there are exceptions to the rule that green electricity is more costly than non-renewable. For example, Npower's Juice package provides 100 per cent renewable electricity and switching to it should not mean paying extra.

Under the terms of the package, which is endorsed by Greenpeace, Npower matches every unit of electricity customers use and feeds the same amount back into the electricity grid from renewable sources. By switching to Juice, the average household could cut its carbon dioxide emissions by around 3 tonnes a year.

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