How to buy certified renewable energy power
Can’t invest in your own clean energy system? If you’re a customer of one of the 850 utilities offering Green Power Programs around the U.S., you can just purchase the renewable energy directly from them.
Here’s how to make sure that the clean energy power you buy is
- from new renewable energy projects
is verified by an independent audit
- has not been double-counted (e.g. not also counted toward a state’s renewable energy goal)
First, some background. Signing up for green power does not mean you are necessarily purchasing the electricity — the utility would be purchasing Renewable Energy Credits, which are the environmental benefits of 1 megawatt-hour of renewable electricity — and then charging you a premium for that added cost. This is known as the voluntary market for renewable energy.
This is different from the mandatory markets for Renewable Energy Credits, which are created by a legislation which requires utilities in a specific state to procure a certain amount of electricity from renewables.
Due to the demand for renewable energy from consumers, the voluntary market between utilities and their customers has taken off in recent years – growing to support around 6 million MWh of generation in 2010, according to figures released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That’s about a million MWh increase since 2008.
So how does your utility stack up? Here’s a list of the top ten:
|Rank||Utility||Resources Used||Sales (kWh/year)||Sales (aMW)a|
|1||Austin Energy||Wind, landfill gas||754,203,479||86.1|
|2||Portland General Electric||Wind, biomass, geothermal||735,745,202||84.0|
|3||PacifiCorp||Wind, biomass, landfill gas, solar||587,373,391||67.1|
|4||Sacramento Municipal Utility Distric||Wind, hydro, biomass, solar||395,537,564||45.2|
|5||Xcel Energy||Wind, solar||388,837,429||44.4|
|6||Puget Sound Energy||Wind, landfill gas, biomass, small hydro, solar||314,892,507||35.9|
|7||Connecticut Light and Power/ United Illuminating||Wind, hydro||229,408,999||26.2|
|9||National Grid||Biomass, wind, small hydro, solar||167,149,902||19.1|
|10||We Energies||Wind, landfill gas, solar||164,546,605||18.8|
Clearly there’s more interest from consumers in these offerings. But there’s one catch: these green power programs don’t necessarily make a utility “greener.”
Often times, these programs aren’t making utilities change their dirty infrastructure — they’re simply a bonus on top of the existing generation mix that they can sell to environmentally-conscious consumers for a premium. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, assuming those credits help grow new renewable energy generation somewhere else, right? You can’t assume that’s the case. Often times, prices for the credits on the voluntary markets are so low, they don’t impact a developer’s decision to build a project (see “ Good RECs vs. Bad RECs“).
As it’s very hard to prove whether or not an individual REC or broad program is helping develop new generation capacity, this shouldn’t prevent you from participating in a utility’s green power offerings – but it’s certainly something you should think about.
The NREL survey has one good piece of news in this regard:
NREL has also found that more utilities are developing community solar programs, an innovative program design that enables consumers to support local projects. Community solar programs allow customers to purchase a share of a solar system developed in their community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share. Typically, consumers will pay an upfront cost per watt of solar, and then receive a credit on their bill for the kilowatt-hours that their purchase generated.
“Utilities and third-parties are increasingly developing community solar programs as one way to support local renewable energy development,” said NREL analyst Jenny Sumner. “Customers can invest in solar through community solar programs even if they are renters or own homes with shaded roofs.”
How to buy certified renewable energy power
The renewable energy that Green‑e Energy certifies goes through a thorough verification process to ensure that it:
is from new projects. It’s important that renewable energy certificates (RECs) support new projects built for the voluntary market, not to satisfy a state or federal requirement. That’s because consumers who are buying renewable energy want their money to go toward expanding the renewable energy market. Green‑e Energy Certified RECs come from new facilities built with the voluntary market in mind.
is verified. Sellers of Green‑e Energy Certified renewable energy are reviewed twice a year to ensure that they live up to their advertising claims, and that their customers are getting what they paid for. Certified energy is accounted for and tracked through the annual Green‑e Energy verification audit process.
has not been double-counted. Certified renewable energy sold to a consumer cannot also be counted toward a state’s renewable energy goal (a renewable portfolio standard, for example). Renewable energy must only be attributed to the individual customer purchasing it.
These are the criteria you want in any green power program you sign up for.
You can find Green-e certified renewable energy for your home or organization if you click here.
– Stephen Lacey (with Joe Romm)
This is a cross-post from Climate Progress.
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