Buying green electricity for your home

April 8, 2019
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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 2018 was generated mostly by coal (32.7%), natural gas (24.8%), and nuclear (36.5%) – only 3.3% came 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. Below is a guide prepared by the Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (MC-FACS):

 

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 green electricity from companies that provide wind and solar energy; OR
  • subscribing to a community solar project based in Maryland, which can save you money on your overall electricity expenses.

This guide does not cover companies that install solar panels on your rooftop; the MC-FACS Clean Electrons subgroup recommends that as a third step if possible.

 

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. The MC-FACS Clean Electrons subgroup reviewed offerings in mid-2018 from all known suppliers for Montgomery County, and updated this information in January 2019.

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 January 2019 and recommended by MC-FACS:

Supplier, Product Name, Renewable Content, and Web Address Price*
Note: Prices change frequently, check the website to verify current rates. 
Considerations
CleanChoice Energy

Two Renewable Plans Available:
• 99% Wind + 1% Solar
• 100% Solar

9.50 cents/kWh
(99% wind + 1% solar)
or
13.0 cents/kWh
(100% solar)
CleanChoice is a local firm, a B Corporation, and is certified by the Montgomery County Green Business Certification Program.  Both plans are 12-month contracts, 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)

7.95 cents/kWh AEP is a large multistate utility. 12-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.  Minimal MC-FACS member experience with this supplier and there are customer complaints about AEP’s Ohio affiliate on Yelp.  BBB rating = A+
Groundswell/WGL Energy Services

100% National Wind Power

(100% Wind)

9.70 cents/kWh (12-month)

9.40 cents/kWh (24-month)

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.  BBB Rating = A+

*Compare to Pepco’s 7.01 cents/kWh through September 2019 for electricity that is about 3% wind and solar; the rest is mostly coal, natural gas, and nuclear. The rates for wind power in this table would add between $9 and $27 to the average monthly electric bill of $131.16 for a residence in Maryland. The 100% solar option would add about $60 to the average monthly bill.

What to consider in buying green electricity

Under Maryland law, you can choose a supplier for your electricity other than Pepco (or BG&E or Potomac Edison if you live in the part of Montgomery County that they serve).  Your monthly electric bill will then have one payment with two parts – the first part to Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison as the distributor, to maintain the electric wires in your neighborhood; and a second part for your “electric supply” that goes to the supplier that you choose.

The process of signing up for a supplier is done online or by telephone and is simple – you will need to check 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.”

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 known as 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 in addition to making a profit (“B Corporations”), or that have been certified for environmentally responsible business practices (for example, through the Montgomery County Green Business Certification Program). Their prices may be higher, but if you want your electricity purchase to support such socially beneficial goals, then you may want to consider this in choosing a clean electricity supplier.

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,taking you off the 100% wind/solar program.

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 type of green electricity, cost, and other factors that you desire.

 

Option 2: Supporting Community Solar Projects

A complementary strategy to switching to the suppliers in the table on the preceding page is to support the development of solar generation facilities in Maryland through community solar projects. Maryland has a program that allows you to support such projects and receive a credit on your monthly electricity bill for the amount of electricity that you support from a given community solar project.

The first such project in the Pepco service area, now soliciting subscribers (organized by Neighborhood Sun) has a subscription rate for its power that is 5% less than the Pepco rate, resulting in an overall savings on a subscriber’s utility spending..

As a legal matter, you are not buying the solar power generated by the facility itself, but you are funding development of the generation facility while saving money overall. You can combine this support with buying your personal renewable energy through one of the suppliers in the first table in this guide.

MC-FACS recommends Neighborhood Sun and Groundswell. The MC-FACS Clean Electrons subgroup does not have experience with CleanChoice Energy for this community solar type of supply. SUN MD provides a listing of current and future community solar projects and other information on their website.

Links to information on companies and groups with active community solar projects in Maryland are provided below:

 

This article was prepared in April 2019 by the Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions Working Group on Clean Electricity.  MC-FACS represents a diverse community of faiths, whose voices are valuable in the conversation on climate change, and whose faith-based actions draw on a deep well of love for each other and the planet we share. Data current as of January 2019.



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