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Sources: California Energy Commission and U.S. Energy Information Administration

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Acid rain: Also called acid precipitation or acid deposition, acid rain contains harmful amounts of nitric and/or sulfuric acids formed primarily by sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. It can be wet precipitation like rain and snow, or dry precipitation in aerosol particles or dust.

Air conditioning: An assembly of equipment for air treatment consisting of a means for ventilation, air circulation, air cleaning, and heat transfer, either heating or cooling. The unit usually consists of an evaporator or cooling coil and an electric compressor and condenser combination.

Alcohol (fuel): A class of carbon-based liquid chemicals that are capable of being used as fuel and that contain an alcohol group, one oxygen and one hydrogen bonded together, in their chemical formula. Ethanol is one example.

Alternating current: (AC) Flow of electricity that constantly changes direction forward and backward. Almost all power produced by electric utilities in the United States moves in current that shifts direction at a rate of 60 times per second.

Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV): motor vehicles that run on fuels other than petroleum-based fuels. As defined by the National Energy Policy Act, this excludes reformulated gasoline as an alternative fuel.

Ampere: The unit of measure that tells how much electricity, or current, flows through a conductor. Often shortened to “amp.”

American Recover and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA):  U.S. Congress passed this legislation on February 13, 2009. A direct response to the economic crisis, the Recovery Act strives to create new jobs and save existing ones, spur economic activity and invest in long-term grown, and foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending. Among its objectives, the act makes $275 billion available for federal contracts, grants, and loans.

Anaerobic digestion: A biological process in which biodegradable organic matters are broken down by bacteria into biogas, which consists of methane, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases. The methane biogas can be used to generate heat and electricity, or used as fuel for vehicles.

Ancillary services: The services other than previously scheduled electricity delivery that are required to maintain system reliability and meet government operating criteria. Such services include spinning, non-spinning, and replacement reserves, voltage control, and black start capability.

Anthracite: Hard coal, found deep in the earth. It burns very hot, with little flame. It usually has a heating value of 12,000-15,000 British thermal units.

Atom: The smallest unit of an element consisting of a dense positively charged nucleus (of protons and neutrons) orbited by negatively charged electrons.

Atomic Energy Commission: The independent civilian agency of the federal government with statutory responsibility to supervise and promote use of nuclear energy. Its functions were assumed in 1974 by the Energy Research and Development Administration, now part of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Avoided cost: 1. The amount of money that an electric utility would need to spend to produce or purchase electricity elsewhere that it instead buys from a co-generator or small-power producer, a cost dependent on time and geography. Federal law establishes broad guidelines for determining how much a facility gets paid for power sold to the utility. 2.  The cost the utility would incur but for the existence of an independent generator or other energy service option. Avoided cost rates have been used as the power purchase price utilities offer independent suppliers.

Ash: Impurities consisting of silica, iron, alumina, and other noncombustible matter that are contained in coal and leftover after its burned. Ash increases the weight of coal, adds to the cost of handling, and can affect its burning characteristics.

Asphalt: A dark brown-to-black cement-like material obtained by petroleum processing and containing bitumens as the predominant component; it’s used primarily for road construction.

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