We all know that renewable energy is our hope for the future, but how can we, as individuals, accelerate the urgently-needed transition to clean energy? On Monday, March 2nd, Green Needham presented their “Greening Your Electricity” program at the Needham Public Library. The program demonstrated how any electric customer, even without being a candidate for rooftop solar, can help bring more green energy into the grid. (See program slideshow below.)
Nick Hill, a Green Needham Steering Committee member, presented the program, starting with some basic facts about our electric grid.
Electricity 101: Power is produced by Power Generators, using sources such as natural gas, nuclear power, wind or solar power. Power Suppliers buy power from the generators and transmit it into the grid. And finally, Power Distributers are responsible for maintaining the substations and power lines that transmit electricity to homes and businesses. In Needham, Eversource (formerly NStar) is always our Power Distributor and is the company to call with any electrical problems. Eversource is automatically our Power Supplier, unless we choose to contract with a different supplier. (Notice that your bill has separate charges for distribution and supply.)
Green Electricity 101: Renewable energy generators receive Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) — one for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy they produce. The payments they receive for these RECs help cover their higher costs and allow them to compete with fossil fuel generators. In Massachusetts, all suppliers must include 10% renewable energy in their supply mix by buying RECs from local renewable energy generators.
There are three approaches to green power:
1). Buying green power from 3rd party green power suppliers. This involves signing a contract with a power supplier other than Eversource. Prices per kilowatt hour may be variable or may be fixed for a certain period of time. The contracted price covers only the “supply” portion of the bill. The power suppliers that offer “green” power buy RECs to match your electricity use. (The RECs are not necessarily from power produced in Massachusetts, except the mandated 10%.) Websites such Choose Energy and Current Choice allow you to find various green power suppliers, such as Viridian, Spark Energy and Clearview Energy.
2). Mass Energy Green Power Programs: You can choose to pay a few more cents per kilowatt hour to non-profit Mass Energy, which uses your money to buy RECs from carefully chosen local projects. By entering into long term contracts to buy RECs, they help enable new projects that might not have been built without the guaranteed purchase of their RECs. Your payment to Mass Energy is tax-deductible. See their website for detailed information and FAQs.
3). Community Solar – a large array of solar panels is installed on land somewhere other than on your roof, and you get credit for a share of the power produced. No installation has been built in our area yet, but several companies are making plans to do so. This involves a long-term contract and ends up with a modest savings on your electric bill. Companies taking signups in our area for possible projects include Next Step Living, (866) 867-8729, and Clean Energy Collective, 844-CEC-SALE.
Be Aware: Several of these options involve signing contracts. Make sure you explore the websites and carefully review the contract. Here’s a list of questions that consumers should to ask before choosing green energy.
Nick concluded the presentation by posing a few questions to the audience to help them make their own decision:
- Are you willing to pay a few cents more per kilowatt more for your electricity in order to promote locally generated green power? Then Mass Energy is the way to go.
- Do you want to promote green power, but want to minimize the increase to your electric bill? You could consider the rates offered by a green power supplier, knowing that the RECs purchased may be from from less-expensive, Midwest power generators. (Also remember that Eversource electric rates are expected to go down in June, so be careful what you lock in.)
- Do you want to promote solar power, even if your roof is not a solar candidate? Consider reserving a spot in a community solar facility to be built sometime in the future.
The important thing is for you to choose some form of green energy – that’s what we need to fight global warming. And if it does cost a bit more, consider the ways that you can offset this cost:
- Reduce your energy consumption – here are some ways to do this. Remember that the “best” watt is the watt not used – achieved by energy efficiency and conservation. Using less energy will make the transition from fossil fuels much easier.
- Get a no-cost energy audit, which will improve your home’s energy efficiency: http://www.greenneedham.org/nsl.php
And finally, you can view Nick’s full presentation on The Needham Channel. Click in the box to the below to watch now or check the schedule for the TNC’s Education Channel (Comcast Channel 8; RCN Channel 3 ; Verizon Channel 31) for rebroadcast times.