California's Power Content Label
AB 162 (Statute of 2009) and Senate Bill 1305 (Statutes of 1997) require retail electricity suppliers to disclose information to you about the energy resources used to generate the electricity they sell. As directed, the California Energy Commission created a user-friendly way of displaying this information called the "Power Content Label." This label will provide you with reliable information about the energy resources used to generate electricity, enabling you to easily compare the power "content" of one electricity product with that of others.
You can think of the power content label as a "nutrition label" for electricity. The power content label provides information about the energy resources used to generate electricity that is put into the power grid. Just as a nutrition label provides information about the food you east, the power content label provides information on where your electricity comes from.
What information does the power content label provide?
Electricity can be generated in a number of ways. It can come from renewable resources such as biomass and waste, geothermal heat or steam, solar energy, rivers or small hydroelectric reservoirs, and wind energy; or, it can be produced from resources such as coal, large hydroelectric reservoirs, natural gas, or nuclear fuels. The Power Content Label describes the sources of electricity that is put into the power grid. Each electricity supplier must display information about the energy resources represented by their contracts with electricity generators.
The power content label cannot tell you about the electricity that you use in your home; instead, it tells you about the resources mix your energy dollars are being spent on. If you purchase electricity generated using natural gas, for example, you are paying a natural gas-fired plant to generate electricity and to feed it into the main power grid. Since it is impossible to track the flow of electricity on the grid, there is no way to identify the actual power plant that produced the electricity you consume in your home. But it is possible to track the dollars you pay for electricity. Your electricity dollars will support electricity generation from various energy resources in the proportions listed on the Power Content Label.
See below for a more detailed explanation of the information contained in the Power Content Label.
Where and when will I see the Power Content Label?
Starting in the fall of 1998, electricity suppliers were required to include the Power Content Label in all advertisements sent to you in the mail or over the Internet. Furthermore, your electricity supplier must send you annual updates for the product you're purchasing. If there have been any changes in what the electricity supplier is able to provide you, you will learn of them in these updates.
The Power Content Label cannot tell you about the electricity that you use in your home; instead, it tells you about the resources mix your energy dollars are being spent on. If you purchase electricity generated using natural gas, for example, you are paying a natural gas-fired plant to generate electricity and to feed it into the main power grid. Since it is impossible to track the flow of electricity on the grid, however, there is no way to identify the actual power plant that produced the electricity you consume in your home. But it is possible to track the dollars you pay for electricity. Your electricity dollars will support electricity generation from various energy resources in the proportions listed on the Power Content Label.
Just because you can't identify which power plant generated the electricity you consume doesn't mean that your choice doesn't make a difference. Your electricity choice does make a difference, because you decide what kinds of electricity are fed into the electricity grid. Over the long term, your purchasing decisions will help determine what kinds of power plants are built to serve California's electricity needs.
Aren't the utilities required to purchase electricity from renewable resources?
Yes. By 2020, all utility companies in the state are required to have contracts in place so that 33 percent of their electricity comes from renewable resources. These include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and small hydroelectric facilities. By doing this, the state will help reach its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are affecting our planet's climate.
So what exactly does the Power Content Label tell you?
Let's look at the sample label shown below.
Column A (Energy Resources)
This column lists the different energy resources that can be used to generate electricity. Renewable resources, as listed, include biomass and waste, geothermal, small hydroelectric, solar and wind. For a description of these and other fuel types, see the section titled Energy Resources below.
Column B (Power Mix)
This column displays the actual mix of electricity purchased by your utility in a given year, broken out by fuel type.
Column C (California Power Mix)
This column displays the mix of resources used in California for a given year. This information is provided as a reference point for you to evaluate your utility's resource mix, compared with the electricity being used within the state
When a retail supplier purchases electricity directly from an individual electricity supplier (i.e. a generator), it is called a "specific purchase." If a retail supplier purchases electricity through a specific purchase, the electricity supplier can identify exactly what types of energy resources were used to generate the electricity they sell. This differs from electricity purchased from a power pool or exchange where there may be no identifiable tie between the retail supplier and any particular electricity generator. These types of electricity purchases are classified as "unspecified purchases", and are listed as "unspecified sources of power" on a Power Content Label.
The Energy Commission publishes Total System Power data each year, based on reports submitted to the Energy Commission by electrical generation facilities. See more information on Total System Power.
If you have further questions about the Power Content Label, please contact Kevin Chou at 916-653-1628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Eligible Renewable:
Simply put, renewable resources are energy resources that either cannot be used up or are quickly replenished through natural processes.
In California, biomass and waste, geothermal, solar, small hydroelectric, and wind energy resources are all considered eligible renewable resources.
- Biomass and Waste - Biomass fuels are residues produced from logging, mill operations and the manufacture of wood, pulp, paper, and fiberboard, agricultural field and orchard crops, livestock and poultry growing operations, food processing, and demolition (urban wood waste). Waste fuels include combustible residues from industrial processes, municipal solid waste ("garbage," including tires but not garden trimmings because these are considered "biomass" fuels), and municipal liquid wastes. In general, solid biomass fuels are converted to electricity by burning the fuel in a boiler, which generates the steam used to turn a turbine generator. These fuels may also be gasified and burned to produce electricity. Liquid biomass fuels are converted to electricity by capturing and burning the gases they give off.
- Geothermal - Geothermal electricity is produced using heat from deep within the earth (often evidenced by the presence of hot springs or geysers). This heat is captured and used to mke steam to turn an electric generation turbine.
- Solar - Solar electricity can be generated in two ways. One way involves focusing the heat of the sun on a central point that heats up. This heat is then used to produce steam, which turns an electricity turbine. Another way to harness solar power for electricity is using photovoltaic cells such as those seen on rooftops. Photovoltaic cells convert energy from the sun to electricity through an electrical process. Though each photovoltaic panel produces a relatively small amount of electricity, they can be grouped together to produce larger amounts.
- Small hydroelectric (30 megawatts capacity or smaller) - Hydroelectric power plants transform the energy of falling water into electrical energy through the use of water wheels or hydraulic turbines. Small hydroelectric facilities may either use a small dam or river flows to harness the energy of the moving water. Federal law defines small hydroelectric as having a capacity of 30 megawatts or less (except in the case of efficiency improvements and conduit hydroelectric facilities pursuant to Public Utilities Code 399.12), and California uses this definition for purposes of the Power Content Label as well as other programs.
- Wind - Wind energy is derived from the movement of air caused by the uneven heating of the earth's surface by the sun. Power from the wind is captured using wind turbines blades that turn as the wind blows to generate electricity.
- Coal - Coal is a form of carbon that wass created over millions of years from decaying plants. Coal is normally used in a pulverized solid form to fuel a conventional boiler, generating steam, which is then used to produce electricity. Most of the coal-fired power plants that make electricity from California is from plants located out of state but are owned by in-state utility companies. State law restricts utilities from new purchase agreements with coal plants because of climate change concerns.
- Large Hydroelectric (greater than 30 megawatts capacity) - This technology is essentially the same as small hydroelectric except that it operates on a larger scale. Whereas small hydroelectric facilities may be positioned on a river or canal, a large hydroelectric facility is typically located on a large dam.
- Natural Gas - A fossil fuel that comes from deep within the earth, natural gas originates from ancient decaying plant matter. It is extracted from the earth, processed, and burned to produce electricity. It is the source of the majority of electricity used in California.
- Nuclear - Nuclear energy is derived from the splitting or "fissioning" of uranium atoms. Uranium is mined, processed to increase the amount of fissionable material, and made into fuel rods which are then placed in nuclear reactors. As the uranium atoms split inside the reactor, they generate heat which is converted to steam and used to generate electricity.
- Unspecified Sources of Power - This refers to electricity from transactions that are not traceable to a specific generation source by any auditable contract trail or equivalent, such as a tradable commodity system. That proves commercial verification that the electricity source claimed has been sold once, and only once, to a retail consumer.