Buying green electricity for your home

An important way to combat global warming is to switch our electricity supply to “green” electricity (generated from wind- and solar-powered sources, both of which do not emit carbon dioxide).

Electricity generation is the single largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.  Electricity sold by Pepco in Maryland in 2017 was generated mostly by coal (32.2%), natural gas (26.7%), and nuclear (35.9%) – with only 2.8% from wind and solar.

Scientists tell us we need to switch to clean electricity without delay.  By buying electricity from wind and solar power, and/or by supporting community solar power projects, you are helping support the stronger U.S. green electricity industry essential for that transition.

 

How to buy green electricity without installing solar panels


The following information is focused on helping residents of Montgomery County, who cannot install (or prefer not to install) rooftop solar, buy green electricity.  You can make the switch to green energy by:

  • purchasing electricity with renewable energy certificates from wind and solar facilities; OR
  • supporting the development of solar power in Maryland by being part of a community solar project.


 

Option 1: Green-e Certified Suppliers of Renewable Electricity

Many suppliers offer green electricity for purchase by Montgomery County residents, but their offerings can be difficult to compare – due to differing terms, conditions, and other relevant considerations.

Green-e is the trusted global leader in clean energy certification. They make it easy for businesses and individuals to purchase verified clean energy with confidence, and for consumers to choose sustainable products and services. Green-e advocates for the advancement of clean energy policy, markets, and technology, and believes in their economic and environmental benefits. Here are the companies whom have been certified as of August 2018:

 
Supplier, Product Name, Renewable Content, and Web Address Price Considerations
CleanChoice Energy Clean 12 Month Rate Lock (99% Wind + 1% Solar) 11.60 cents/kWh CleanChoice is a local firm, a B Corporation, and is certified by the Montgomery County Green Business Certification Program.  12-month contract, but you can cancel at any time, for any reason, without paying any penalty.  BBB rating = A+
AEP Energy ECO-Advantage 100% Renewable Fixed Price Offer (100% Wind) 7.99 cents/kWh AEP is a large multistate utility. 36-month contract, but you can cancel at any time, for any reason, without paying any penalty.  Only available for Pepco customers, not BG&E or Potomac Edison customers.  No MC-FACS member experience with this supplier and there are customer complaints about AEP’s Ohio affiliate on Yelp.  BBB rating = A+
WGL Energy Services 100% National Wind Power(100% Wind)   8.50 cents/kWh (12-month) 8.30 cents/kWh (24-month) IFPL’s agent, Groundswell a local renewable energy non-profit has a supply agreement with WGL Energy Services, an affiliate of Washington Gas Light. 12-month or 24-month contracts; WGL Energy’s penalty for early cancellation is $10 for each month remaining on the contract (so potentially a larger penalty for 24-month contracts).  BBB Rating = A+

What to consider in buying green electricity


Under Maryland law, you can choose a supplier for your electricity other than Pepco, BG&E, or Potomac Edison.   Your monthly electric bill will then have two parts – a smaller continuing payment to Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison (as the distributor) to maintain the electric wires in your neighborhood, and a payment for your “electric supply” that goes to the supplier you choose.

The process of signing up for a supplier is done online and is simple – you will need to consult a copy of your electrical bill to provide your current utility account number as part of the sign-up process.

The cost of green electricity is slightly higher than what Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison will charge for the “electric supply” part of your bill.  For that reason, it is important to know that the green electricity you are paying extra for is really “green.”

The EPA recommends buying green electricity from suppliers that have undergone third-party validation – in the United States, the non-profit organization that provides that independent check is Green-e.

 

Signing up


When you sign up for a green electricity option, you will sign a fixed-price contract for a specific term (typically between 1 and 3 years).  Some suppliers make you pay a penalty if you want to switch to another source of electricity before the contract term is up.  If you want the flexibility to switch based on finding a better price, then you may want to pay attention to termination fees and consider a supplier that allows easy cancellation.

There are other differences among the types of suppliers in the marketplace that may be important to you.  Some suppliers of green electricity are large multi-state utilities.  They may have lower prices for green electricity.

Others are smaller, more local firms that are explicitly organized to operate on socially responsible business principles or that have been certified for environmentally responsible business practices.  Their prices may be higher, but if you want your electricity purchase to encourage more Triple Bottom Line business (Economic, Social and Environmental), then look out for green business or B Corp logos.

If you live in Takoma Park, the City of Takoma Park has a program for purchasing green electricity for its residents that offers low rates and good environmental value.  Visit the program website.

The end of your contract


Shortly before the end of your contract, your green electricity supplier must inform you of your options, going forward:
  1. If you do nothing, some suppliers will automatically renew you for another fixed term at a different fixed rate that may be higher.
  2. They might put you on a variable rate that changes from month to month, which will likely also be higher.
  3. Others may return you to Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison as your supplier.

It is important to pay attention to your options at the end of your contract term (be it 1 year from now or 3 years from now), so that you make a choice at that point that continues to provide you with the lowest cost.

   

Option 2: Supporting Community Solar Projects


A complementary strategy to the above is to support the development of solar generation facilities in Maryland through community solar projects.   Maryland’s demonstration program allows such facilities to be built once they have signed up customers equal to the plant’s capacity.

The first PEPCO region project, to be built on a brownfield site in Prince George’s County, is now soliciting subscribers (organized by Neighborhood Sun).

Subscribers receive credits on their electricity bills that will be 5% greater than what is paid PEPCO, resulting in an overall savings.  As a legal matter, you are not buying the solar power generated by the facility itself, but you are directly incentivizing such facilities in Maryland while saving money overall.  You may be able to combine this support with buying your personal renewable energy through one of the suppliers in Option 1.

  Community Solar Organizers:


This article was prepared in June 2018 by the Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions Working Group on Clean Electricity members are: Jon Foreman, Jack Lebowitz, Joelle Novey, Bob Simon, Stuart Simon, Doneby Smith, Gary Steinberg, Nancy Wallace, Walter Weiss, and Diane Wysowski.  Data current as of June 2018.

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