Duke wants you to have green peace of mind

Six Duke Energy customers signed up this week to buy some environmental peace of mind – now being offered with your power bill.

It's a start, said the power company, which has 1.8million customers in North Carolina and about 600,000 in South Carolina.

Duke customers can now buy carbon dioxide offsets in $4-a-month increments to support green power production. The typical residential customer could offset the carbon dioxide tied to their personal electricity use, the company says.

The Charlotte-based utility turns the money over to NC GreenPower, a nonprofit that gives utility customers the opportunity to buy renewable energy. Duke said it plans to start a similar program in South Carolina “in the near future.”

The demand from consumers and businesses in general for offsets is so high that NC GreenPower has called for proposals from companies that can produce the green power needed to back up the programs. The bids are due by Aug. 1.

Looking to green-up their images, more utilities and other businesses that sell products that pollute are embracing the programs.

Raleigh-based Progress Energy and Richmond, Va.-based Dominion, which has N.C. power customers in the northeast region of the state, were given permission by the N.C. Utilities Commission in June, along with Duke, to start programs.

The programs are designed to balance carbon dioxide produced from using electricity and other day-to-day activities and special events, such as taking a flight. Turning up the air conditioner, surfing the Internet, breathing – it all produces the gas, one way or another.

The average U.S. driver contributes about 12,000 pounds a year from exhaust.

Duke says the average N.C. house puts out 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a month, which would cost $8 a month extra to offset. The program started Tuesday and most customers don't know about it yet, Duke said. The utility wouldn't predict how many might sign up, but said there was strong interest to start a program.

Carbon dioxide is blamed as a cause of global warming, which scientists fear could melt polar ice and cause massive flooding and dangerous weather. Coal-fired power plants, which provide Duke with most of its power, are among the biggest producers.

Green energy traditionally has been too expensive to survive on its own in the electricity marketplace. But consumers have increasingly expressed interest in offsetting their carbon footprint.

The theory is that by supporting clean energy projects, less electricity from burning coal is needed. Critics say the programs are good public relations for some companies that pollute but are sometimes more about green fashion than reducing emissions.