This piece first appeared in Home, the magazine of Britannia Building Society, in Autumn 2000. 
The text here may not be identical to the published text

Out of the blue

Green energy - costs a bit more but saves your conscience

Some of the 20 or so companies which supply us with electricity now offer what they call ‘green’ tariffs. These encourage, in one way or another, the use of environmentally friendly ways of generating electricity.

Most power in the UK is generated by burning coal or gas, using the heat to boil water, and using the steam to drive turbines which generate electricity. It’s a method that has not changed for a hundred years. And it is dirty, pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Of course, there are cleaner ways of generating electricity. The best known ‘green’ alternatives are wind, tides, and sunlight itself. But there is also ‘bio-fuel’ which includes burning the gas produced in sewage or landfill sites, burning household waste – controversial to some – and of course using damned up rivers to drive hydroelectric plants.

But all these alternatives only account for less than 5% of the electricity we use. The Government wants to boost this amount as part of a long-term commitment to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by the UK. Most ‘green’ power sources do not pollute – though you would get an argument about burning household waste from some environmentalists! By choosing a ‘green’ tariff, you can encourage the power companies to buy more electricity from these so-called ‘renewable’ sources. In other words, they do not use up parts of the Earth we can never replace.

Of course, all the electricity you get will still come through the national grid – and it cannot deliver power from ‘renewable’ resources direct to your address. But some companies do the next best thing. They measure the power you use during the year and then guarantee to buy that much extra electricity from green generators. So you do ensure the amount of electricity you use is generated in an environmentally friendly way. This method of producing a ‘green’ tariff is called ‘match buying’ – they buy enough green energy to match what you use. But check the schemes carefully. Some do include burning household waste and hydroelectric power. Not everyone will like that.

Some schemes support the environment less directly. Instead of match buying, they use the extra money you pay through your green tariff to support renewable energy projects or research. That is not so direct, but may be better in the long-term.

Unfortunately, none of this comes cheap. Green tariffs are generally more expensive than other ways of buying electricity. A survey by Consumer’s Association found they were around £35 a year more than the cheapest tariffs available locally, and often £10 to £20 cheaper than the standard tariffs of the companies which offer them. But if you are currently paying the full rate for your power from your local supplier, you could switch to a green tariff and still save some money. And some green tariffs do not come at a premium.

The table lists the eight schemes which offer match buying (or a degree of it) in the UK. Only three of these are available nationally. It also lists the four tariffs – two national, two local – which support a green fund.










All renewable


0500 240 500

Scottish and Southern Energy

RSPB Energy*

All renewable


0800 028 8552

Yorkshire Electricity

Green Electricity

Wind, biomass


0345 227 733


Green Electron

Hydro, wind, landfill gas

E & W

0800 328 9026

Unit Energy


Wind, hydro

E & W

0845 601 1410

Northern Ireland Electricity


All renewable


0345 455 455

Scottish and Southern Energy


All renewable

Southern Electric region

0345 776 633


Green Energy

Hydro, tidal, landfill gas

SWALEC region

0800 052 5252

Green funds

Eastern Energy


Solar, wind, biomass


0845 601 1290



All renewable


0800 632 632


Go Green Green Fund

All renewable


0800 581 255

Scottish Power MANWEB

Green Energy

Hydro, wind

Scottish Power and MANWEB regions

0845 272 7111
0845 272 1212

*Some of the tariff goes to a green energy fund.

Source: Future Energy 0800

Autumn 2000

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