Buying green electricity for your home

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.

DYK: You can choose your energy supplier in Maryland?

DYK: You can choose your energy supplier in Maryland?
It is very common for Montgomery County residents to think that their only choices for an energy supplier are Pepco, Potomac Edison, or BGE. In reality you have many more options and freedom of choice.

The state of Maryland began offering their residents the power to choose their own electricity provider in 1999. With this change, comes the ability to choose your retail energy provider, all of whom attempt to offer the most competitive rates and packages for state-wide electricity consumers.

As a consumer, you can not only save on your monthly energy costs by shopping for lower rates, but you can even take advantage of green energy options, and choose to have your electricity come from renewable energy sources.

When searching for a new energy supplier, you should make sure you do your research as my family recently learned.

Chad's family

Chad’s Family

Lessons from a new MoCo resident

When I first found out my family and I would be moving to Montgomery County from Orlando, Florida, I knew I would miss the sunshine, but not the electric bill.  My electricity bill easily reached well over $300 per month starting in June and lasting into September; and it was not that much lower in the months before and after.

However, when I came to Maryland I discovered a benefit I had never experienced. For the first time, I would be allowed to choose my own utility company. In Florida, residents do not have the option to shop around for utility providers. Instead, one is assigned according to the current address or zip code in which one resides. You can imagine what a benefit it can be for an energy provider to have no competition.

As an energy consumer, being able to select an energy provider allowed me the ability to choose where the source of energy comes from. You can choose non-renewable sources like coal, gas, and nuclear, or renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydro. I could even decide to mix and match sources or select a provider based on price and location of the company.

The pricing for my residence ranges between $0.0729 and $0.089 per kilowatt hour (kWh), which gives me a great price scope to choose what best works for me.

There were two resources I used while trying to make a decision:
  • Maryland Clean Energy  provided a clear, simple, user-friendly formatted guide to make my selections, breaking down the necessary information for me to easily understand.
  • Clearly Energy  also provided a clear, and easy way to understand where my energy costs are going and how I could save. All I had to do was put my zip code into the search engine and I could find the best rates for my home.

Now, my monthly energy bill is not only less than what I have paid in the past, but lower than I would have ever expected.  It’s amazing how the needs of the consumer are catered to in such a beneficial manner here in Montgomery County.  It certainly makes me wonder why all energy consumers nationwide are not granted the same benefits.

Chad Baisden is a new Montgomery County resident who resides in Gaithersburg with his wife and two wonderful daughters.

For renters, sustainability can be simple too

For renters, sustainability can be simple too
With so many sustainability programs targeted towards property owners and homeowners, it often seem that renters get left out. Renters are just as “green” as owners and, more often than not, they are paying their own utility bills. What is a renter to do? As with other kinds of residences, apartments afford opportunities large and small to go green. By following a few easy steps, you can make a real difference in the energy you use—and the money you spend.  

Germantown resident and renter, Tamara Dimes, showing us her lighting upgrades.

Tamara’s Story

Germantown resident and renter Tamara Dimes achieved significant savings by participating in a “quick home energy check-up,” or QHEC through her utility company. “It definitely saves energy. I pay the energy bills and I noticed they got lower,” Dimes said. “Saving money is a plus. With the economy these days, you want to hold onto as much money as you can.” “It went really quickly, really convenient,” Dimes said of the QHEC she recently underwent. “It took maybe 45 minutes, tops. I like the new showerheads. You can adjust them to different settings.”  

QHECs: A Quick How-To

For renters like Dimes who receive a utility bill every month, QHECs are an easy way to make a significant difference in your energy use. They are available to customers of Pepco, Potomac Edison, and BG&E at no additional cost. (It is covered by the EmPOWER Maryland program, which applies a surcharge to your existing energy bill.) Although specific upgrades may vary, some of the common solutions a QHEC can provide include:
  • An example of the LEDs that were installed

    Switching out your lower-efficiency bulbs to higher-efficiency bulbs, which can consume 80% less energy compared to incandescent light bulbs.
  • Updating less-efficient showerheads to more water-efficient versions. These upgrades will save not only water but electricity, as demands on water heaters will also go down, thereby saving energy.
  • Installing high-efficiency faucet aerators because these aerators reduce the amount of water flowing through the tap, thus using less energy.
  • Wrapping water heater pipes in foam insulation to ensure that heat or condensation is not escaping from the pipes.
  • Providing you with an advanced power strip, which prevent electronics from using power when they are off or not in use. Advanced power strips are designed primarily for home entertainment and office areas where many consumer electronics plugged into one strip.
  In Dimes’ apartment, an energy contractor with Potomac Edison completed all the energy saving measures listed above. Even more appealing are the cost savings. Dimes said she used to pay $90-$100 for electricity each month, and now pays about $60. To schedule your own QHEC, contact your utility supplier through their online form or by phone. Once scheduled, the entire process takes about an hour. A trained energy professional will tour your rental unit and make energy upgrades on the spot, as well as suggestions for larger and longer-term opportunities.  

Additional Energy-Savings Tips

If you happen to live in a rental unit where electricity, heat, and water costs are included in your monthly rent, you may not qualify for a QHEC. But don’t fret!Energy Star Logo Here are some tips that U.S. Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR program suggests to help you become more energy efficient, save money, and reduce the impacts of climate change:  

No Cost Tips:

  1. Take shorter showers; five minutes is all you need. Try playing your favorite song as a timer.
  2. Unplug chargers when not in use. Even when you’re not charging a device, they still use electricity.
  3. When doing laundry, wash in cold water and, if using a dryer, clean the lint trap before each use and do not over dry.

Low Cost Tips:

  1. Replace your five most frequently used lights with higher-efficiency LED or fluorescent versions. Your utility offers rebates on lighting that are automatically taken at the register at participating stores.
  2. Look for the WaterSense You will receive a WaterSense-labeled showerhead through the QHEC, but additional items such as faucet aerators are at your local hardware store.
  3. Use an advanced power strip. While you will receive one with the QHEC, you can find additional ones at your local hardware store.
[And if you have a larger project in mind to save energy, be sure to check with your property manager or landlord.]   Need more help saving money on utility bills? The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection Low Income Energy Assistance program or Pepco’s bill assistance program can help customers better understand and control their energy needs and usage.   ****** By Scott Harris. Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. He may be reached at scottharriswriter@gmail.com.