Indianapolis Power and Light: Hiding behind a green mask?

CFLs save moneyI just received a free Home Energy Efficiency Kit from my local electricity provider, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL.) As Napoleon Dynamite would say, it's flippin' sweet!

After I found out about it from Shawndra (whom I met once at the only Irvington Green Initiative meeting I've been to :P ), I ordered a kit online at IPL's website (click here to order one ASAP if you're an IPL customer) less than two weeks ago, and it was on my doorstep when I got home today. I pretended I wasn't excited about it and let it sit on my kitchen counter for awhile, but couldn't resist the urge to open it before my wife got home.

Inside were two compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), a hot water gauge to check water heater temperatures, a refrigerator thermometer, an awesome luminescent night light that emits a nice light-green glow for only pennies a year (even if left on for 24 hours a day, every day!), switch and outlet draft-stoppers (glad I bought and installed these a few weeks back :P ), a water flow meter bag to determine faucet/showerhead efficiency, and finally my favorite thing (barely edging out the night light): a "Spoiler" low-flow water saving showerhead. I haven't installed any of it yet because I wanted to show my wife the nifty package. Well, I lie: I just couldn't help myself from testing and installing the night light.

It's cool of IPL to offer all this for free (though it's probably wrapped up in my monthly electricity bill somehow). Hopefully it will offer people who don't know much about saving energy an idea of where to start. There are many things we can do to improve efficiency, without going as far as installing solar panels or moving to the Arctic tundra and living off the land (good luck with that.)

I can't help wondering, though, why IPL is offering all this for free. It's the third in a short series of things that made me go "hmm..." (ah, how I miss C + C Music Factory.) The first, part of IPL's "ongoing commitment to protect and preserve the environment," was their installation of a new 565-foot stack and scrubber that reduces sulphur-dioxide emissions. The old one was big, but the new stack looks friggin' huge and sends off an impressive, relatively clean, white, mostly water plume, especially on clear days. Check out the picture below.

IPL's new scrubber and stack

Okay, so that seems like a good idea. I haven't done much research, but it has to be an improvement on the original stack. Anyway, the second thing that made me go "hmm..." was IPL's offering of a renewable power option (click for info and to enroll), which I signed up for last year. You can specify how much of your energy you'd like to come from renewable sources (10% through 100%), and then IPL's magic Green Power Option elves send electricity from Midwestern wind farms or Indiana landfill gas generation plants (sounds pleasant) to your home. I don't really understand how the whole "sending electricity from somewhere distant" process works (that's my phrase, by the way, not IPL's), but it sounds somewhat like what Enron was doing when they were trading and shifting energy between states and rather distant regions (check out Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room for an entertaining and informative look into what happened.)

I'm not blaming IPL for anything. From what I can tell (I admittedly haven't done a lot of research on their history), they're making some good moves towards going greener. But I can't help being somewhat suspicious when members (or at least acquaintances) of the carbon cabal shed their smoky appearances for green.

If IPL is indeed charging full speed ahead toward a clean future, kudos to them. If not, well, no one likes to be greenwashed, even if if they don't yet know what the term means.