A Small Step


I just wanted to pass on a tip that may cost you a bit more money but will reduce your carbon footprint. I mean most of us here know this and care about these issues, but that doesn’t always result in action or change, now does it?

So last Friday I spent 30 minutes researching and then changing my electricity provider from the standard (dirty) mix of sources to 100% renewable. It literally took a few minutes to setup and configure my new source which is still delivered by my local power company.

When I first went to sign up, it offered me at no extra charge on top of my normal power bill, a 50-50 mix of wind/renewable and normal. So just by signing up for free and with no premium, I could be 50% renewable. I figured, “Well, they’ve already given me half, might as well make it 100%” and clicked the slider, Apply, and I was done. Of course that’s the sales pitch, and it worked. On top of things, I get a $50 Best Buy card in the mail soon which will come in handy as I shop.

I am now using 100% renewable power, and since this house is all-electric, I can sleep a bit better knowing that I’m helping in a small way every minute. My power bill will increase a bit as the renewable is more expensive, but that’s a small investment in a slightly better future – in this case, value today means outsize effects in the future and I’d rather pay that bill now if possible, before it gets bigger.

In the back of my mind, I knew that I could do this, but didn’t get around to actually doing it until I read about the Federal Government report on Friday and made my small step. In this case, my provider was/is running a Black Friday promotion with the before-mentioned gift card. The physical hookup, etc. remain as they are, so really this just means that they feed my local power company X kilowatts of power each period to cover my usage.

It’s contract, installation-fee, and investment -free, so I can change my mix or mind whenever I choose, though I expect I’ll stick with them as long as the price remains acceptable. I’m not funding some investment jackass’s new furniture to feel pure, so I plan to keep an eye on the rates and how it all goes down.

I’m not looking for accolades, but wanted to prompt as many of you as possible to check your local electricity providers to see if they offer an option for renewable energy, or if you are in an area where you can choose your supplier, see if you can find a renewable provider that you’re comfortable with. In my case, knowing that my local power company still delivers and services the lines means that I should see no difference except less carbon usage and a slightly higher bill.


Open Thread!


38 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    Thanks. I’ll look into doing this.

  2. 2
    WereBear says:

    I agree. I’ve got a mix going (since my provider doesn’t have 100% yet) but every bit helps.

  3. 3
    skyweaver says:

    Thanks, Alain! I will definitely check Dominion Power here in NoVa.

  4. 4
    Tom Levenson says:

    We did the same recently; our town offers that same two step towards greenness. As Mao said in a rather different context, the revolution can proceed county by county…

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    Have you noticed any decline in the quality of electricity,, Alain?

  6. 6
    Wakeshift says:

    This is an excellent, easy step we can take in support of non-polluting and renewable energy, and helps to push in the right direction. Recent headlines announce that Solar and wind have become the lowest-cost source of new generation, and these types of “opt-in” consumer choices are part of why.

    That said, I do offer this word of caution:
    Check your bill closely each month and monitor the rate you are being charged (usually labeled “Supply” or “Generation”)

    Most of the 3rd-party suppliers are responsible actors in this industry, but not all. Beware of introductory rates that last just long enough for you to get comfortable, and then jump.
    As long as you’re paying attention, you can change at any time.

    Source for opinions expressed here:
    I work in the residential solar sector in the northeast, and read a LOT of home electric bills.

    Thanks Alain for spreading the word on this! I didn’t mean for this word of caution to come across as diluting support.
    Every small step we can take is meaningful.

  7. 7
    Dave T says:

    I’ve been intent on doing this for awhile now, but I’ve held myself back. My problem is that I see this as being a “next-to-nothing” step. To be sure, “next-to-nothing” is still something, and kudos. But in the research I’ve done, it’s basically a system where my local provider would buy RECs from Oklahoma, where they’re dirt-cheap, and continue pumping the same coal/gas mix into my house. I’m still inclined to sign up for the more-expensive option of getting local renewable energy to encourage local investment in renewables, but ultimately what I want to do is put solar panels on my roof.

    But like I said, “next-to-nothing” is still something, and it’s more than I can say I’ve done. I don’t mean to dump cold water on it, it really is a good step.

  8. 8
    trollhattan says:

    Electricity fine, but unexpected kombucha cravings.

  9. 9
    Victor Matheson says:

    @Baud: Quite the opposite. Renewable energy tends to be a little fresher and juicier, with hints of strawberry and citrus.

  10. 10
    Alain the site fixer says:

    @Baud: Not so far, but electrons are electrons. I figure electricity is like gasoline – it all goes through the same pipes when it gets to the destination nearest you (the lead into your house or the local gas depot or gas station). So I’m just paying to have Arcadia Power supply my usage of power to my local company.

    As for the gas example, I used to see the gas tanker come into town and fill four competing brands. After filling their tanks, the driver would watch the station staff pour their custom blend of chemicals into the tanks to make it “Shell gasoline” versus “Exxon-Mobile gasoline”. Same thing for much of the US – the gasoline is refined in coastal areas around LA and TX and then, via a network of pipelines, it’s delivered to key distribution points across the country. It’s all the same gasoline going through the pipeline; what changes is what’s done with it either at the station, in the tanker, or at a depot, all post-pipeline.

  11. 11
    laura says:

    SMUD has offered renewable for a while. We’ve been on green energy for a few years.
    Fun fact, they built a nuclear power plant in the 70’s and ratepayers forced a shutdown though the waste is still in situ.
    On a clear day you can see the colling towers from east bound hwy 50.

  12. 12
    trollhattan says:

    Next summer our electricity utility begins time-of-use billing, the cost to double 5:00-8:00 p.m., which should make A/C season a challenge. May have another PV system evaluation this winter, the last one didn’t want to site panels on the best roof area for sun. We have 300 sunny days/year, so….

  13. 13
    narya says:

    I did this two years ago! Every little bit, I keep saying (and doing, when I can). My other big thing this year is paying $25/month for someone to come haul a bucket of compostable material away for me (actually two buckets, because they come every other week). My garbage is tiny at this point. I have a farm share and cook a lot, so being able to keep those food scraps out of a landfill and into a compost pile is awesome for this city condo dweller. Also: a local resale shop sells clothing to a salvage company that recycles the materials, so THAT stays out of a landfill as well.

  14. 14
    trollhattan says:

    You can also see those big boys from a sufficiently tall downtown building. Fun fact: Rancho Seco was a close cousin to TMI, and not well-built. They were basically rewiring the entire joint and folks got tired of paying for serial repairs and the many, many downtimes.

    “Too cheap to meter.”

  15. 15
    Alain the site fixer says:

    @Wakeshift: thanks for the additional suggestions for everybody. I expect there’s a fair chance they’ll up the rate to see what they can squeeze, but if so, I’ll switch. The nice thing about this is, since I’m changing upstream providers, it’s instant, and easy to change. In theory, this should pressure providers to compete and do a better job of keeping the price low. In theory.

  16. 16
    stan says:

    Other things you can do:
    * Insulate!
    * Don’t use AC unless you absolutely gotta have it
    * Allow your house to be a little colder in the winter
    * Put a timer theromstat in, and let the house be a few degrees cooler when you’re not there (not too much though or you’ll waste energy warming it up again)
    * drive less
    * Live in a city so you can easily drive a LOT less. I put less than 10,000 miles a year on my car
    * Turn off the lights!!!!!!

  17. 17
    Wakeshift says:

    Hmmm. There must be more to that story, other factors for which roof; usually it’s the homeowner who wants to put panels somewhere sub-optimal! Haha
    Time-of-use rates create some really interesting possibilities for PV, batteries, and BOTH. (If the utility ((is forced to)) play ball)
    If the time wasn’t right in the past, keep checking.
    Good luck

  18. 18
    Wapiti says:


    Also: a local resale shop sells clothing to a salvage company that recycles the materials, so THAT stays out of a landfill as well.

    Goodwill will likewise sell damaged cloth goods to the rag/fiber trade; I imagine other thrift stores do the same. The Seattle city reuse website had that as a tip, so now we separate out holey socks and other clean but unusable cloth goods and donate them marked as rags.

  19. 19
    Wakeshift says:

    @Alain the site fixer:
    I agree, and I believe that’s the most important part about consumer energy:
    Choice and Control, where we’ve never had any before.

    Like everything we talk about here, collectively we can push against narrow interests in favor of the common good.

    Thanks again

  20. 20
    Snoopy says:

    It’s been two years since I was on Austin (TX) power, but they have a program where, if you sign up for 100% renewable, it’s a little pricier than “regular”, but the rate is locked in for ten years. Dunno if they’re still offering this.

  21. 21
    Yutsano says:

    @Alain the site fixer:

    Not so far, but electrons are electrons

    What, no positrons? I’m out. :P

    I live in the Northwest, where we’re lousy with hydroelectric power. All of our power sources should be renewable by now, but I think there’s a couple coal plants in Oregon.

  22. 22
    Michael Cain says:

    “I am now using 100% renewable power…”

    Well, no, you’re not, unless you’ve got your own source and are off the grid. The transmission and distribution grids can’t sort out the electrons. You’re still using whatever mix of thermal, PV, wind, etc power your utility buys. You are encouraging them to buy more from solar and wind generators, which is a good thing. And they will generally buy from those sources, subject to all of the other regulatory requirements they operate under. Over some period — month? quarter? year? — they’ll have to show the regulators that they purchased at least as much renewable power as their customers paid for. Although in some states, utilities are allowed to subsidize the use of renewable power elsewhere and still claim that they are “delivering” renewable power to you.

    What you and the other customers are doing is changing the mix of power you (and everyone around you) consume over time from, say, 10% renewable to 15% renewable. That’s a good thing. But the electricity you consume isn’t “100% renewable”.

  23. 23
    WereBear says:

    Use more power strips for things like televisions which don’t turn all the way off, so you can shut down all the electronics with one switch when you are done.

    Put the wifi router on a timer unless you need it on 24/7.

    I have one of those bathroom heaters with a timer, so if I forget after my shower, it won’t run much longer.

  24. 24
  25. 25
    Michael Cain says:

    Last time I looked, the utility that includes Portland in its service area was still getting about 35% of its power — measured over a full year — from coal, mostly generated in Utah and Wyoming. There are no coal-fired plants left in California, but LADWP gets about 25% of their power from a huge coal-burner near Delta, Utah (they’ve committed to converting that plant to natural gas by 2025).

    I assert that the correct scale for those of us living in the West to worry about is the Western Interconnect. In 2017, renewables accounted for about 42% of total power generation there, natural gas about 27%, coal about 23%, and nuclear about 8%. Notice how different those numbers are from what are usually tossed around for the country as a whole. The US doesn’t have one power grid, it has three very largely independent ones, and they are in very different situations.

  26. 26
    Michael Cain says:

    @Waynski: It’s a good thing to do, it’s just not what Alain said it was.

  27. 27
    Dan B says:

    @stan: Air Seal!
    It’s not at the top of people’s agendas but unless you live in a residence that was built to strict modern codes you’re probably living in a sieve. Insulation will do a little but air sealing is a ‘force multiplier’. We moved from a 1905 insulated house into a 1953 house with two real fireplaces. What luxury! We used them a lot the first winter (and fall and spring). Then we air sealed. We couldn’t use the fireplaces because the house would get to 90 degrees in half an hour, even when it was below freezing outside. Then we insulated and haven’t used the fireplaces since. It might have something to do with the fluffy lap kittehs too.

  28. 28
    WhatsMyNym says:

    The first place to put your money is in insulation.
    Electric companies are already moving away from expensive dirty sources, they want you to help pay for the move and stick you with the bill for closing their previous mistakes (nuclear, coal plants not yet paid for).

  29. 29
    catclub says:

    @Alain the site fixer: I was thinking the ten+ year lockin of rates is based on the expectation
    that solar/wind costs are coming down rapidly. I guess I could stop it, check the rates again and then re-start in that case.

  30. 30
    catclub says:


    What, no positrons? I’m out. :P

    All the virtual positrons are free and included in the price.
    But you don’t want to be a round when they renormalize your bill.

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:

    @Michael Cain:
    Because I have no life the CA ISO website is an endless source of fascinating info on power demand and supply. We’re in the two darkest months and solar contribution is still meaningful. In June-July it’s a good chunk of the supply. Incoming Gov Gav seems as interested in carbonless goals as Jerry, so hopefully we continue on the current (heh) path. Now if we could only drop Donny’s fvcking PV tarriff….

  32. 32
    Terpitude says:

    I signed up for this years ago in Northern Virginia (Dominion Power). I actually can’t remember now what % is green energy. I pay a bit more, but it does make me feel better about what I use.

  33. 33
    Shana says:

    @Terpitude: Is this the Dominion Energy Green Power program I see on their web site?

  34. 34
    Michael Cain says:

    @trollhattan: California’s legislature has also done some good things, pushing the ISO to look beyond just the state. If the West is really serious about an all-renewable grid, they’re going to have to run it as a regional grid, not a bunch of smaller ones. One of the large problems is that two of the biggest generators in the West are federal quasi-agencies: the Bonneville Power Administration and the Southwest Power Administration. If they decide to be non-cooperative, things get harder.

  35. 35
    StringOnAStick says:

    We did this last year and opted against rooftop solar because we get such screaming high winds here and hail is common. We’ve replaced our roof twice from hail over the last 2 years, and last night’s heavy winds left a shingle in the backyard this morning, so I’m thinking my husband’s concerns about wind and panels is more reasonable than I thought.

  36. 36
    BruceJ says:

    Given our state electric utilities just spent millions to prevent us from passing a ballot measure demanding at least 50% renewable by 2030, I rather expect they’ll only offer the ‘Whole Coal: Now with 50% more CO2!’ and ‘Open nuclear pile glowing in the night’ options to us.

    They were literally telling us that voting for the renewables mandate would close all the schools and kill old people.

  37. 37
    Raoul says:

    I signed up for a block of Windsource a few months ago for our new place. Once we finally move in (and then use our A/C next summer) I’ll figure out how many blocks we actually need.

    But thanks for the nudge. Knowing others are doing this is nice. Some things in the ‘personal choice’ spectrum of responses to AGW seem futile. But this is a direct push away from bulk fossil fuels and, one at least hopes, sends a message to utilities to keep expanding the fleet of green power offerings.

  38. 38
    Raoul says:

    @stan: I fear that living in Minnesota, the land where humidity is a spice, I gotta have A/C. But my feeble compensation is that I am more than willing to be on the cool side in the winter.
    I go to other people’s houses and I’m like, oh man, 72 in the winter? I’m roasting.

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