8:50 AM EST, January 18, 2013
What if you could be greener and save money at the same time?
Well, you can. By switching your home’s power to “green” electricity, you can reduce your household’s contribution to climate change by 24 percent while also shrinking your utility bills.
Though electricity changed the world for the positive, its big downside is that most U.S. power plants are powered by coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel that spews carbon dioxide (CO¿), sulfur dioxide and mercury into the air. Power plants are the #1 source of man-made CO2 emissions in the U.S., accounting for 41 percent.
How does this relate to me?
Maryland’s electric power is half coal and half nuclear. Your monthly electricity bill is calculated by how many kilowatt hours (kWh) are used to power your home times the price per kWh. An average Maryland home uses 1,100 kWh each month, at about 9 cents per kWh.
Residential electricity is the 2nd largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for Maryland residents, accounting for 24 percent. (Cars and trucks are the leading source, producing roughly half).
Deregulation - let the games begin
In 1999, Maryland’s energy suppliers were deregulated. This meant that while Maryland’s five utilities still own the lines that bring electricity into your home, other firms could compete to sell consumers directly power that they produce or purchase from different power plants. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and the other utilities still service and bill their customers, but Marylanders can now choose their electricity supplier. Right now,there’s an abundance of greener energy options to choose from, and while they've been more expensive in the past, many now offer lower rates than what BGE charges for its standard energy mix of coal and nuclear.
Wind energy is offered to consumers by offsetting conventional electricity with renewable energy certificates, or RECs. Each REC equals 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power generated by wind turbines - most likely in another state, since there are only two industrial-scale wind projects in Maryland right now. Wind developers sell RECs to help cover the significant costs of wind-energy projects.
(For those who wonder how real RECs are, Maryland’s green-electricity options are “Green-e” certified by an independent consumer protection program. To learn more about RECs, go here: http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/gpmarket/rec.htm )
Wind projects aren’t perfect. Some environmentalists have problems with the impacts of the turbine blades on bats and birds, while others question whether intermittent energy sources like wind or sunshine can realistically furnish the bulk of society’s power needs. But if you’re looking to buy emission-free power in Maryland right now, the only electricity plans offered involve wind.
Got 2 minutes? Here’s how to switch
Comparing your utility’s green electricity options is mind-boggling, so we’ve done the work for you. Click here to view green electricity pricing plans for Maryland’s utilities.
If you choose to switch to green electricity, you will not experience any changes; your utility will still service and distribute electricity and bill your home. The only change you will notice is on the line that lists your electricity provider and the charge.
Similar to mobile phone plans, electricity supplier plans vary. Some even have variable rates, which change monthly. So if the price matters, choose a fixed rate for a specific contract length (6 months, 1 or 2 years) and a mix of 50 or 100 percent renewable power.
This month, the BGE-area pricing winners are below. Remember to ask if there are any special new customer promotional rates that apply.
50% wind 1 year contract C.Q.I.
50% wind 2 year contract C.Q.I.
100% wind 1 year contract Ambit Energy
100% wind 2 year contract Clean Currents
There is no charge to switch from your utility’s standard rate to green electricity. You will receive a renewal letter when your contract term is up, and often firms offer discounts to retain you as a customer. But take note when the renewal notice hits your mailbox, or your account may be automatically renewed.
Are these electric suppliers legit?
You will not be the first to switch; over 450,000 Maryland homes (close to 25 percent) have changed electricity suppliers.
All Maryland electricity suppliers are registered with Maryland’s Public Service Utility Commission. And, the Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel keeps a close eye on this process for Maryland’s consumers.
(Full disclosure: Both B’More Green bloggers have switched to green electricity and pay standard residential green electricity rates available to the general public.)
6 steps to switching online:
1) Choose a green electricity supplier for your utility.
2) Choose the percentage of wind (50 or 100 percent).
3) Choose the contract length: 6 months, 1 or 2 years. Your rate is “locked-in” for this period.
4) Find your “Electric Choice ID #” located on the back of your electric utility bill, near the top.
5) Go to supplier’s web site, click on “residential” and then enter your zip code and information.
6) You will receive a “switch” letters from your new supplier and your utility confirming the switch and pricing plan.
If you’re the researcher type, here are some useful web sites to check out: E.P.A. Green Energy, Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland’s Clean Energy Center (supplier list is outdated) and the Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel.
One residential customer who switched had this to say:
“It just made sense to switch to green electricity and it’s been no big deal," said Dr. Judy Grados of Woodstock. "It makes me feel good, I’m doing something to help the environment.
And for the time being, at least, you can save a little “real” green while also feeling greener.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun