You want to support the generation of electricity from renewable sources, but how do you know if your purchase of green power is contributing to shifting the electricity that powers our electric grid away from fossil fuels? The Green Energy Consumers Alliance, a non-profit energy organization, explains how to avoid being “greenwashed.”
How The Grid Works
Think of our New England electrical grid as a huge bathtub for electrons. Power plants and generators in the region pour electrons into the bath, and they become indistinguishable from the others. From there, the utility companies distribute small amounts to consumers when we turn on appliances. It’s impossible to know where your electrons come from, unless you’re generating and using them onsite.
The composition of the bath (grid) is tracked through a central database maintained by our grid operator, ISO New England, through their Generation Information System (GIS). You may receive a disclosure label from your electricity supplier or utility, showing what’s in your mix — everything from 1% coal, to 5% hydro, to 10% nuclear for example. This is based on contracts for the sale of specific electricity into the bathtub (tracked through the GIS), not on physical electrons that actually come to your home.
How “Making The Switch” to Renewable Energy Works
Renewable energy is clean and it creates good jobs and energy security. When people decide to buy renewable energy, they’re expecting something like this to happen:
We can’t run wires directly from wind turbines directly to homes. The only way we know that they come from wind turbines is the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) that ISO New England tracks in the GIS for every megawatt hour (MWH) of energy produced there. RECs represent the electrons in a specific MWH, and list the generator, its location, date, emissions, and the type of generation (wind, solar etc). And they allow the buyer to lay a claim on the electrons they represent. If you want to use green electricity, you need to buy or produce RECs. This also applies to a home solar system–if you sell the RECs, someone else gets the right to claim they are solar powered by your system (more on that topic here).
A renewable energy generator can sell both its electrons and its RECs separately. This gives developers of renewable energy an additional stream of income from the RECs. In some states, developers rely on REC sales to make projects viable. In others, the sale of RECs is not important to the developer’s bottom line, an does not factor into a decision to undertake a renewable energy project.
New England is one of the only places in the country where REC sales are crucial to developers. See the chart below.
New England states, particularly Rhode Island and Massachusetts, have created a market for wind and solar RECs through renewable energy policies by requiring utilities to buy a certain number of specific “Class 1” or “new” RECs to serve us. Class 1, or “new,” RECs come from renewable energy facilities commissioned since 1997, sited close enough to feed into New England power grid, and emitting zero or limited carbon emissions. This attracts development in New England, and by law, utilities are already helping to develop renewables. But the pace is not fast enough.
We need more renewable energy than state law requires in order to save the planet, protect public health, and create jobs. This is where voluntary purchases come in, but you must be discerning.
Many companies claim to sell green power, but they are cutting corners on impact. They do not restrict their offerings to Class 1 or “new” renewable energy; after all, that kind of renewable energy is more expensive. Most “green” electricity supply products offer relatively inexpensive “national” RECs instead, which may come from anywhere in the country. That’s OK, but these RECs usually come primarily from projects that don’t need to sell them in order to make the project viable in the first place — this means if you give them your money, you’re doing nothing to help shut down fossil fuel plants in our region. Wouldn’t you rather buy something that makes a difference?
In Newton Power Choice, the City offers Class 1 Electricity that is 100% Green!
First find your Eversource account number, then call 1-833-272-9592 or visit www.masspowerchoice.com/newton