I live in DC, and this spring I got a note with my Pepco bill explaining where exactly my power was coming from. I discovered that over half of my electricity was coal-generated, and that only about 5 percent was from renewable sources. Not surprised but very put off, I did a bit of research and found out how easy it is for Mid-Atlantic residents to support alternative energy and even save money in the process.
To start, look closely at your bill. It includes distinct three parts : distribution, generation, and transmission. Depending on your state, you might or might not have the option to choose your generation and transmission provider. Check with your local public service commission. (DC residents, find yours here.)
For me, Pepco had to stay as my "distributor," but I discovered that my alternatives for generation and transmission were Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES) or a WGES brokerage firm such as Clean Currents. This latter company, which provides power through a wind-focused carbon offsetting program, works with Pepco, BGE, Allegheny Power, and Delmarva Power in Maryland; PPL in Pennsylvania; and Delmarva Power in Delaware. Clean Currents' long-time DC clients include Ben's Chili Bowl, CakeLove, and Tryst.
So how exactly does it work? As Clean Currents president Gary Skulnik explains in this video for CNN, "For every kilowatt hour they are taking from the grid, they're putting a kilowat hour of wind back into the grid. Does it mean that electron went from that farm to their house, or their business? Not exactly. But it has the same exact environment impact as if it did."
While I might feel better if the electron were coming directly from the farm to my apartment, the bottom line is that signing up for Clean Current's plan is far better than doing nothing and staying with the default one from Pepco.
If you think you want to switch, the key is to compare kilowatt hour (kwh) rates. You'll find this information on your electricity bill, and it will change between winter and summer months. Clean Currents, through WGES, offers 50 or 100 percent wind power for one and two year terms and with varying rates. They say their prices are on average 10 to 15 percent lower than what your local utility charges, and they will be fixed throughout the year. I chose a one-year, 100-percent wind energy plan, and the kwh rate is slightly lower than Pepco's
Once you've signed up, you don't have to do any more paperwork or make any more calls. Your local utility (distributor) will be alerted, and they still will be the ones sending your monthly bill. Mine explains, in big bold letters, "this bill contains your charges from both Pepco and your electric energy supplier [WGES]."
Image: Waymart Wind Energy Center in Wayne County, PA, from FPL Energy via Pennsylvania Wind Working Group