Taking up the cause of supporting renewable energy in lieu of traditional carbon-emitting fossil fuels has become increasingly popular in recent years, as people strive to do what they can to fight climate change, reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, and support localized energy resources that minimize harm to the environment. However finding something that everyday citizens can do to help the development and use of renewable energy is sometimes difficult:
- Upfront costs for electric vehicles are dropping compared with traditional gasoline-powered cars (and accounting for maintenance and powering them, electric cars can actually be cheaper on a per year basis), but they are still out of reach for most middle- and low-income households;
- Policy debates regarding the rights of those with household solar panels installed and how they will be priced in the future threaten the technology’s viability even in some states where the sunshine is plentiful; and
- While large corporations (including tech titans like Google, Apple, and Facebook or retail giants like Walmart and Target) are increasingly entering contracts and making pledges to get a massive portion (or all) of their electricity from renewable sources, the average residential customer does not typically have any negotiating power and instead is stuck with their one available power provider.
But that may be changing as companies like Clean Choice Energy entering the market and providing everyday people the option to get their power from regional renewable energy sources. Clean Choice Energy allows eligible utility customers to agree to pay a little more and ensure that the electricity they are receiving is certified is renewable and does so without any extra equipment, new installations, or separate billing processes. For the energy-conscious consumer, Clean Choice Energy allows a small-scale participation in the energy transition in a very real and attainable way.
But how does it work? Read on to learn more and read about my personal experiences with the process.
What is Clean Choice Energy?
Clean Choice Energy was founded in 2010 after Tom Matzzie (founder and CEO) wanted to install renewable energy into his home but found the process much more difficult than he thought it would be, which is a predicament Americans everywhere have encountered. The frustration of that process is what led to the birth of Clean Choice Energy. The basic concept centers around the idea that supporting new renewable energy development and continued generation costs more in the short term due to higher capital costs (while natural gas plants have installation costs of $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity, solar ranges from $2,000 to $3,700 per kilowatt and wind ranges from $1,200 to $1,700). So while in the long term, the ‘free’ nature of solar and wind to fuel the renewable energy brings the actual costs per energy generated of these projects below those of most non-renewable projects (see chart below), there exists a high upfront cost barrier to entry in the market.
To overcome this cost barrier of renewable energy projects, Clean Choice Energy allows regular consumers to pay a little more every month to ensure that the power going into your home comes from 100% renewable sources. Giving the customer this flexibility is crucial, as power companies strive to keep their customers happy and prevent the prices from going up without cause. This goal to not raise prices, both prices for the customer and the price for the utility to generate energy, reduces the incentive for the utility to investment more in renewable power sources. While 29 states have mandatory requirements concerning the minimum amount of a utility’s portfolio that must come from renewable sources, many customers would still prefer to have more renewable energy in their personal energy mix and would even be willing to pay for that privilege. That preference is where Clean Choice Energy comes in, offering customers with the ability and desire to pay more for 100% renewable energy the option to do so. Not only do individuals who sign their household up get the satisfaction of knowing their lights and appliances are powered with solar and wind energy, but they can also be proud that their money is helping the feedback loop where more people buying renewable energy leads to more capital to invest and improve the renewable technologies which leads to more affordable renewable energy which causes more people to buy in, etc.
How does it work?
If the broad concept of buying into renewable energy sources for your household sounds appealing, then the general question of how exactly it works is the next logical step. Pretty much all possible questions are answered on Clean Choice Energy’s website, but the process is surprisingly simple and straight forward.
Getting your renewable power
When signing up with Clean Choice Energy, most locations have available both month-to-month contracts or full 12 month plans, though both can be cancelled at any point without delay or cancellation fee.
Once signed up, your household will begin to get its renewable power typically within one billing cycle, by the next meter read date. Your overall electricity and connection to the grid will not see any service interruption at all, and in fact everything on the customer’s end (wiring, equipment, billing process, utility company to contact with any issues) stays exactly the same. All that changes is that the utility will begin to get the electricity for your household from regional solar and wind resources as set up by Clean Choice Energy.
Clean Choice Energy’s standard clean plan is Green-e Energy certified, ensuring compliance with the standards put forth in Clean Choice Energy’s mission. When you get your power traditionally from the grid, it includes electricity from all the sources that utility uses– coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable sources. However once your household is a part of Clean Choice Energy, all your power will be accounted for from 100% regionally-based, clean, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar and not any blended products that contribute to fossil fuels or nuclear power. This end is achieved by making sure that all the energy from your meter reading is matched by Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which is what the customer is paying a premium to obtain.
A crucial question for anybody considering a switch to Clean Choice Energy is how much their rates and monthly bill will be affected. Unfortunately, there is not a single or simple answer. The rates charged by Clean Choice Energy change from month to month because the renewable energy (i.e., the RECs) is bought on an open market where prices and availability fluctuate. As such, your bill is not going to increase by a fixed amount or fixed percentage, rather you agree to pay for the most affordable regional clean energy source that Clean Choice Energy finds in that particular month. However if this uncertainty is not ideal, Clean Choice Energy does, in certain locations, offer a fixed-rate price plan that you can discuss with them.
Once the next meter read date passes and you are officially getting renewable power via Clean Choice Energy, you will still continue to receive your only electric bill from the same utility. The only difference will be that ‘CleanChoice Energy’ will show up on that bill as your electricity supplier.
Because Clean Choice Energy is only available where it has specific agreements set up with the area’s utility, it is not an option everywhere in the United States. Currently, Clean Choice Energy serves both residential and commercial customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. However they are also continuing their expansion efforts and expect to enter into Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas in the future. Being in these states, though, is not all that is required, as you also must be a customer of the specific utilities in those states with which Clean Choice Energy has agreements. These applicable utilities can be found here.
My experience and review
Process of joining
One of Clean Choice Energy’s most significant and important claims is just how simple it is to sign up and start getting your renewable energy– no installation, no equipment, no headaches. To this claim, I can attest to its truth. I got a letter in the mail advertising that my apartment was eligible to switch, I went to the link I was provided, and within minutes I had completed my process of switching to 100% renewable energy. It actually was that easy!
Shortly after that, I received a welcome envelope in the mail, laid out and shown below, which came with a welcome letter, a sticker, a list of customer rights & responsibilities, and a detailed explanation about the type of power I was to receive.
After that, though, the required correspondence with Clean Choice Energy was complete. At that point, everything was done through my existing power company, just as advertised. The next full bill I received from my utility (relevant excerpt shown below) replaced the utility’s supply charges with ‘CleanChoice supply charges.’ Again, the price change is variable and depends on your region– but for the below consecutive months from right before and right after I joined Clean Choice Energy, the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (with 383 kWh used in the last month before Clean Choice Energy and 617 kWh used in the first month with Clean Choice Energy and the first month all year I had used my heater) went up by 33%, while the distribution charges remain unaffected:
While that price hike is certainly enough to prevent some people from making the switch, I personally view it as a small token towards ‘walking the walk’ with respect towards supporting renewable energy, especially given the impact that doing so has.
In terms of what the impact of your switching to 100% renewable energy is, that entirely depends on your utility’s existing energy mix and your power usage. However Clean Choice Energy does provide a tool to look at the impact of your personal switch. Here’s the tally from my November electricity usage through Clean Choice Energy:
After using 241 kWh with Clean Choice Energy’s 100% renewable sources, my switch for that month accounted for 370 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions averted (the equivalent of planting 4.3 trees) and 178 pounds of coal not burned. Not only that, but Clean Choice Energy also keeps a running tracker of the impact of all Clean Choice Energy customers– with this screenshot taken as of December 29th, 2017:
In addition to the direct and measurable impact of switching to renewable energy, customers can also be confident that they are helping to invest in renewable energy sources in their local regions, which will hopefully help them become more affordable, profitable, and expansive. On a micro-level, I have also found that the decision to switch to Clean Choice Energy, and the higher electricity prices that come with it, has helped encourage me to reduce my own energy use. Whether that means turning off the lights more often or waiting until I have a full load in the washing machine before running it, the higher cost per kWh is incentive to reduce personal energy usage.
I’ve been a customer with Clean Choice Energy for over a year now, even making sure to transfer it to a new building when I moved apartments. If that’s not endorsement, then I don’t know what is! But again, more than being simple to do, using Clean Choice Energy serves as a token towards a better and greener energy future. While wind and solar power have grown a great deal recently (up to a combined 115 gigawatts of capacity in 2017 from just 17 gigawatts in 2007), renewable energy still accounts for less than 17% of total U.S. Power generation according to the Energy Information Administration. Investment and buy-in from customers that were unreachable before a program like Clean Choice Energy will be one of the driving forces to make renewable energy an even stronger force in the utility market than it already is.
How do you get started?
If reading all this is enough to get you interested, there are a couple of ways you can get started. First, make sure the specific utility in your state is included in Clean Choice Energy’s available partners. If it looks available to you, you can use this link to sign up (full disclosure: that is my personal referral link, and if you sign up using it then both you and I receive a $25 Visa gift card; if you prefer a non-referral link, then click here to sign up). You can also call them directly at 1-800-460-4900 to start the sign up process. If it turns out Clean Choice Energy is not option for you, call up your utility. There’s always a chance they have an internal program with similar goals, and if not then use your voice to let them know you want greener and cleaner energy!
Sources and additional reading
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.