70s House Eco Renovation

Buying Electricity from a Local Clean Power Provider

By Kenneth Barbalace

[Last update May 2, 2009]

Note: This is one in a series of articles documenting the eco renovation of our house. See the links at the bottom of this article for other articles in this series.

One of the easiest ways for us to reduce our carbon footprint by around 1.5 tons per year was to start buying our electricity from a clean power provider. By Maine law, Maine consumers can choose which electricity producers we buy our electricity from. This has brought a healthy dose of competition into the market, and opened the door for Maine based green energy producers.

We chose to buy our power from Maine Interfaith Power & Light (http://www.meipl.org/) who has partnered with Maine Renewable Energy to bring zero emission, 100% renewable electricity to Maine residents and businesses. When we signed our contract with them, they had three offerings: Maine Clean Power logo.

  • Maine Clean Power - Hydro: this is 100% hydro electric generated entirely within the state of Maine by Low Impact Hydro Certified generating stations.
  • Maine Clean Power - Wind: this is 100% hydro electric generated entirely within the state of Maine by Low Impact Hydro Certified generating stations, which is then matched by buying renewable energy credits from a national Green-e wind generator.
  • Maine Clean Power - Wind/Hydro: 50% of the electricity is generated by Low Impact Hydro Certified generating stations and 50% of the electricity provided is matched by wind generation renewable energy credits.

The pure hydro option is pretty easy to understand; but I found the second two options a little convoluted. Basically there is only one wind generator in Maine, which is the Mars Hill Wind Farm in northern Maine. Unfortunately, this wind farm isn't tied to Maine's power grid and the electricity gets sold to Canada. This means we can't actually directly buy wind generated electricity here in Maine. As such, for the two wind options wind credits must be purchased from wind generators elsewhere in the country. By selling wind credits, the wind generator is then able to reduce the price they actually sell their electricity to their local grids at. What this does is allow wind farms to become more price competitive against fossil fuel generators like coal fired power plants. What the consumer gets from this is a warm fuzzy that they are helping to support wind generation.

The option we chose was the pure hydro option. In part this was because it was the cheapest of the three options (the wind option was $0.01/kWh more and the wind/hydro option was $0.005/kWh more expensive), but it was also because I found the wind options too theoretical. If I'm going to buy green power, I want my money to be going to the generator who is actually pumping electricity into the grid I'm on to offset my usage. Although the rates for the Maine Clean Power options can fluctuate on a daily basis based on what the energy markets are doing, once a contract is signed, the rate is locked in for three years. We were able to lock in our rate for three years at $0.105/kWh in April 2009. At the time, the rate for the standard electric option was about $0.09/kWh, so the hydro option was costing us an extra $0.015/kWh (or about $4.50 extra per month). If, however, energy prices spike back up as they did in late 2007 and early 2008, we could actually end up saving money because our rates are locked in.

What does Low Impact Hydro Certified mean?

The Low Impact Hydro Power Institute or LIHPI (http://www.lowimpacthydro.org/) is a national non-profit organization whose governing board includes representatives from organizations such as American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Northwest Power Planning Council. The LIHI's Low Impact Hydropower Certification Program is a voluntary certification program designed to help identify and reward hydropower dams that are minimizing their environmental impacts. The certification criteria are aimed at ensuring that certified dams adequately protect or mitigate their impacts in eight key resource areas: river flows, water quality, fish passage and protection, watersheds, threatened and endangered species, cultural resources, and public access and recreation opportunities. The eighth criterion requires that certified dams have not been recommended for removal.

Even the cleanest "green" renewable energy has an environmental impact. For hydro-electric plants, the LIHPI Low Impact Hydro Certification process ensures that the environmental impacts of hydro power are minimized and mitigated.

Buy renewable electricity if you can

Not all places allow consumers to choose who their electric providers are, however, if you are able to choose, changing to a green energy provider can be a very easy and inexpensive way to reduce your carbon footprint dramatically. If you do not live in an area where you can choose your own electricity provider you should lobby your legislature or government to change the laws so that consumers can choose whom produces their electricity. Giving consumers the ability to choose who they buy electricity from is one way to use the open market to encourage the development of more renewable energy projects.

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