Choosing Renewable Energy

April 21, 2020
Richard Hassinger

This piece is part of the Old South Church Climate Change Task Force's series, "Climate: The Small Things Matter"

Last year Newton began a municipal electric power program called “Newton Power Choice”. Kathy and I decided to get on board with it, primarily because it offered the option to get our electricity from 100% renewable sources for only a slighter higher charge per kilowatt hour. The program allows you to choose the basic plan which is 16% renewable, the standard plan, which is 62% renewable, or the 100% green plan. Here’s the way it works: Municipal electricity aggregation is a form of group electricity purchasing. In an electricity aggregation, your City or Town government uses the bulk purchasing power of the community to negotiate a contract with an electricity supplier on behalf of residents and businesses. As part of that, your local government determines the price and the renewable energy content of your electricity. We still keep our existing electric company, in our case Eversource, but they only deliver the electric power and continue to be responsible for the infrastructure, e.g., maintaining the wires and poles and dealing with outages. The company our city contracts with, Direct Energy, is the supplier of the power. So we only get one bill, from Eversource, which includes the supply from Direct Energy.

The interesting and somewhat confusing part of this is how the renewable energy supply works. Because the energy we all get from the grid is a mix of fossil fuel sources and renewable sources an accounting system has been devised that identifies the renewable energy projects providing electric power and assigns a renewable energy certificate (REC) to the project. Every time a renewable energy project generates 1 megawatt-hour of electricity, 1 REC is minted. That REC can then be sold. Purchasing a REC gives you, and no one else, the right to say you used the electricity from that renewable energy project. In this case Newton is buying the REC’s and assigning them to those participating in Newton Power Choice according to the plan they have chosen. The Newton program states that the REC’s that are used come from New England renewable energy projects.

Choosing this form of electricity supply plus the solar panels we had installed 2 years ago, we feel is something we can do to help reduce the CO2 emissions our modern society generates. We decided to choose the 100% green plan, which was only a bit more in price. The Basic plan cost $0.109 p/kh, the standard plan cost $0.113 p/kh, and the 100% green plan cost $0.118 p/kh, under the current contract.  We realize that not everyone has the option to do this and that it may only be a drop in a bucket, but the more drops the better! There are many municipalities in the state who have this type of power program, although the mix of renewable energy varies. If municipal power aggregation appeals to you, you might want to contact your local government and see if they have it or let them know you’d like them to look into it. In the link below you can find out what communities in the state already have this program.