Want to do something about climate change? Choosing an electricity supplier that sources renewable energy is a great start.

In addition to their standard tariffs, many electricity companies also offer some kind of ‘green’ tariff, one that either uses renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, biomass plants, solar or hydroelectric schemes, or that puts money into a fund that supports renewable energy developments.

By law, all electricity suppliers must prove they have bought or generated the equivalent of 0.03 units (3%) of green electricity for every unit they sell. Green electricity tariffs achieve a much higher percentage.

Any domestic customer can switch to a green electricity tariff and every unit of green electricity generated comes with a certificate of proof that it is green. Some companies keep the certificates for the extra green electricity they have supplied to you while others sell the certificates to other electricity companies who then use them to meet their legal obligations. Keeping the certificates is the best option for the future of green electricity as certificates are limited in number and by retaining them companies are increasing demand, which encourages new development.

The green electricity market is dynamic; companies change the tariffs they offer, and the companies themselves change names and ownership quite frequently. To keep up to date with these changes, Friends of the Earth have produced an on-line guide: www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/press_for_change/choose_green_energy/index.html. A abridged version is reproduced below.

If you would like a copy of the guide but do not have access to the internet, it is available as a printout from Friends of the Earth. Call Alex Philips on 0207566 1673 for your copy.

Since Friends of the Earth launched the guide a few years ago in a league table version, they have consistently recommended Unit[e]. Although this company is now called Good Energy, the tariff has not changed and is still recommended along with four other tariffs.

Switching to a new, greener tariff is easy. Just call your chosen supplier, fill in an application form, and the switch from dirty power to a cleaner, greener source happens after the new supplier has read your meter. Remember to tell your old supplier why you are switching.

Take Action
As part of the ‘Climate Challenge 2004’ campaign, Birmingham Friends of the Earth have set ourselves an initial target of getting 100 households switched over to green energy before the end of the year. If after reading this you want to be one of those 100 households then call James Botham or Mick Davies on 0121 632 6909 or email us at info@birminghamfoe.org.uk, telling us your name, address, the number of people in your household, which supplier you are switching from and who you are switching to, and when.

Guide to green electricity tariffs
Friends of the Earth's guide recommends tariffs offered by companies if they: (a) only sell green electricity, or produce green electricity in a large percentage of the power stations they own; and (b) if they buy or generate one unit of green electricity for every unit you buy and hold on to at least some of the proof that they have done this.

The guide penalises tariffs from companies that own old and inefficient fossil fuel based power stations or if it isn’t clear how their tariff would benefit the environment.

The following tariffs (in alphabetical order) are recommended. Cost figures shown represent the average annual cost for a family home in London. For price details in your region contact GreenPrices www.greenprices.com/uk/pricesbox.asp You find out about the customer service record of any of these companies from EnergyWatch at www.energywatch.org.uk/.

Eco Energy
Sources: 99% wind, 1% unknown.
For every unit of electricity you buy, it supplies a unit of green electricity. No certificates necessary because in Northern Ireland, there are no laws regarding minimum amounts of green electricity so this tariff increases demand.
Tel: 08457 455 455.

Ecotricity Old Energy Tariff
Source: 100% wind.
For every unit of electricity you buy, they supply 1 unit of green electricity and hold onto 11% of the certificates of proof.
Tel: 01453 756 111.

Good Energy
Sources: 75% wind, 25% hydroelectric.
Formerly known as Unit[e]. For every unit of electricity you buy, they buy 1 unit of green electricity and hold onto 7% of the proof.
Tel: 0845 456 1640.

Green Energy 100
Sources: 50% wind, 49% hydroelectric, 1% solar.
Not to be confused with Good Energy! For every unit of electricity you buy, they buy 1 unit of green electricity. They invest 50% of profits in green electricity generation and holds on to 6.8% of the certificates of proof from these projects. Subscribers also become shareholders.
Tel: 0845 456 9550.

RSPB Energy
Sources: 90% hydroelectric, 5% wind, 5% landfill gas.
A good mixed tariff. For every unit of electricity you buy, it supplies 1 unit of green electricity and hold onto 10% of the proof. For each customer, £30 in the first year and thereafter £5/year, is spent on environmental schemes.
Tel: 0845 7444 555.

The following companies are NOT recommended by Friends of the Earth (in alphabetical order):
Ecotricity New Energy, Green Energy 10, Green Energy Fund, Green Energy H20, Green Plan, Green Tariff, Juice.