A good article in today’s Oregonian about some aggressive conservation measures that Portland General Electric is pursuing. PGE is already a national leader in customers who purchase green power, but the utility is looking to further boost its renewable energy portfolio. The basic idea is simple: for a few extra dollars a month, utility customers can sign up for a program that buys renewable energy—wind, geothermal, and low-impact hydro. The goal is to provide a market-driven incentive for more development of clean energy and increasingly less reliance on polluting sources.

Unfortunately, the article didn’t consider the energy parallel. Green energy consumption is not just about what kind of power you use, it’s how much. I’m all for PGE’s program—it’s a promising way to spur renewable energy development, avoid the pernicious consequences of the status quo’s energy portfolio. But it’s not the best way to minimize environmental damage from energy. The best way is simply to unplug.

Consuming less energy in the first place—whether by keeping the heat lower, using energy-efficient appliances, or reducing consumption in other ways—is clearly a better alternative, one I wish the article had mentioned. Rather than paying extra, consumers save dollars and they forgo the environmental consequences of both old dirty power and the more limited harm of newer green energy.

But since people need power from the grid, the best solution would be a combination. Pay a little extra to join the green energy program and save a little extra by reducing consumption. PGE’s program is terrific; it’d be even better if it were married to a program for improving efficiency or reducing consumption.