FAQs - Renewable Electricity
Green Utility Plans
How do I get 100% renewable electricity from my Utility?
Log on to your utility website and search for the plans or power choices they offer. Look for a plan that specifically says “100% renewable” or look at the generation mix listed for each plan. (Sometimes they may offer a plan that looks “green” or “clean” but actually has coal or gas as part of the mix.) Select the 100% renewable option.
If you live in an area that offers retail choices for power plans (Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas), go to your utility website and find the link to the suppliers that you can choose from for your power generation. There will typically be choices with fixed or variable rates and for differing lengths of time - 6 - 24 months. Choose a plan that meets your needs for timing and which offers 100% renewable generation.
Does buying a Green Energy plan really mean I am getting renewable energy to my home?
Our electric grid is one big interconnected system with multiple inputs from the numerous generation sources and millions of outputs such as our own households. It is true that due to this interconnection, we can never be sure where the electricity that we consume was actually generated. This causes some people to be skeptical that paying a little bit more for a 100% Renewable plan is actually better. However, when you sign up for a Green Energy plan, you are guaranteed that the energy that is produced with your utility dollars is 100% renewable.
A useful analogy for our electric system is to think of the grid as a giant pool that we all take electricity from. To keep the pool full, our utilities continually refill the pool with new energy from multiple sources. Their job is to keep the pool full so that we all have the electricity we need. When you buy a Green Energy plan, you are compelling the utilities to refill the pool with 100% clean energy for your share. Of course, your share will be mixed in with all the other electricity in the pool, so what you take out is a mixture of all the inputs. The more people that sign up for green plans, the cleaner the pool will be. If we all signed up for green plans it would force the utilities to create more clean energy and the pool would be filled entirely with clean energy. When we buy Green Energy plans, our energy dollars are used to build the renewable energy infrastructure that we need for a clean future and as you can see from this chart - it is one of the reasons that renewable energy is growing in the U.S.
When I pay the extra money for a Green Energy plan, where does the money go?
The extra utility fees you pay when you choose a green power plan go to buying RECs. These are certificates that guarantee that the energy you purchase was produced somewhere in the grid with 100% renewable energy. The certificates are verified by a third party to ensure that they are only produced from renewable energy and only sold once to a customer. This is how the market operates for renewable electricity and makes sure that your dollars go to the suppliers of renewable energy. Here is a video that explains RECs.
In many cases, some of your extra fees also go to new renewable projects and programs, but in all cases this mechanism ensures that the renewable energy generators are compensated for the environmental benefit of that clean energy. This mechanism is helping to transform our grid to a clean energy system.
What if there are no 100% renewable energy plans from my utility?
In this case you can still buy RECs for the amount of electricity you use, but you have to do it directly from a REC provider. This is exactly equivalent to buying renewable energy directly from your utility because RECs are the mechanism for guaranteeing that clean energy has been generated in the equivalent amount to what you are buying and using.
First, look at your electric utility bill to determine your typical average monthly consumption in kWh. It should be something like 500kWh for a small home to 1,500kWh for a larger home. Go to one of these websites to get a quote for RECs to cover your monthly electricity use Blue Spruce or Sterling Planet
You will typically be offered RECs in 3 sizes suited to small, medium or large home usage. Chose the one that is best for your case. You will still purchase electricity from your utility, and you will pay this extra fee monthly for the RECs you need for your size home to the REC provider.
Other organizations supply RECs for small businesses. Go to Bonneville Environmental Foundation to purchase commercial RECs online.
Where do I get information about installing solar panels on my roof?
A good place to start is with energysage.com . This website has tons of information on solar power costs, benefits, incentives from your state, local suppliers, what to expect etc. You can even get quotes directly from this website from multiple approved local installers. Another cool website tool is project sunroof which will give you some quick info about the suitability of your house for solar when you type in your address.
What if there are trees near my house?
If you get a lot of shade from trees onto your roof, rooftop solar may not work for you. It is worth it to get an installer to look at your situation before you decide. Also, it could be worth considering removing some trees or thinning trees to get more direct sunlight. The tradeoff from a CO2 perspective is still positive unless you have to cut down a lot of trees. Even if you can not get all your energy needs met by installing solar, it may still be worth it to cut your energy bills and get a portion of your electricity directly from the sun.
How big a system do I need?
Your installer can determine what size system will deliver the energy that your home needs. Keep in mind however, that if you take other REPLACE actions, like switching to an EV or replacing your gas furnace with an electric heat pump, this will increase your electricity use and your installer will need to know that to size the system appropriately.