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Renewable Fuels: Consumers Are Interested But Are Utilities Ready?

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A recent report says the majority of consumers are ready to end their addiction to fossil fuels and instead rely on renewable energy. But how easy is it for a consumer to actually purchase greenpower? Based on my own experience (I’m in Northern Virginia), the answer is: Not very!

Consumers and small- to mid-size businesses basically have two options when purchasing greenpower: 1) If they are in a state where utilities have been restructured and there is choice, then consumers can purchase directly from their utility or a competing supplier; 2) If their state does not offer power choice, then they can purchase renewable energy certificates, which essentially represent the attributes of green power separated from the power itself. (Note: Big organizations, such as large businesses, governments, schools, and municipalities have additional options due to their size and energy consumption, and often can purchase direct.)

Make sense? Maybe not.

If you’re still confused (and it is confusing), the U.S. Department of Energy provides a concise tutorial for consumers interested in buying greenpower. Another good source of information is Green-e program. US EPA’s Guide to Purchasing Green Power is also an excellent resource.

So back to my story. I had to search for quite a while on the website of my utility, Dominion Electric Power, to finally find the greenpower option, which is offered through their Energy Choice program. I ended up in a tangled web of information, none of which actually walked me through the process to start purchasing greenpower. Very frustrating. And calling didn’t help at all. In fact, the woman who answered the phone didn’t seem to know what renewable, or greenpower was, nonetheless, whether or not Dominion customers could purchase it.

I gave up and went directly to Pepco’s website, because according to the map, they offer renewable energy to customers in my state. But that only brought me to Pepco’s shopping cart to make my purchase — no explanation, no details about the ominous sounding “early termination fee,” and good luck trying to reach someone to ask questions.

The price listed was 11 cents/kwh. This compares with the current rate of about 6 cents I am paying for power now. But then I have to add the transmission fee that Dominion will continue to charge me of 3 cents. Which means it will cost me about 14 cents/kwh to switch suppliers — or about 75% more than I am paying now.

The moral to the story: It is not easy for the consumer to purchase greenpower.

But please don’t let this discourage you. Perhaps your experience will be more enjoyable. At the very least, take a few of the simpler steps: consult the map of state choices to identify what options are available to you and consult your local electric utility’s website to learn more about the power options they are offering.

I’d love to hear about your experiences purchasing greenpower and any tips or lessons learned you may have as you navigated the electric utility maze.

Elizabeth Striano
Consultant and writer on sustainability and the environment

Helping you leave a green footprint on the world…


Author: Elizabeth Striano

Elizabeth Striano is a science writer and editor and owner of A Green Footprint LLC, which provides communications and sustainabiilty consulting services to environmental consulting firms, nonprofits, and a variety of businesses and organizations.

One thought on “Renewable Fuels: Consumers Are Interested But Are Utilities Ready?

  1. Pingback: 75 Tips to Go Green at Home and at Work « A Greener Perspective

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