Green Power and You – Perfect Together

Princeton Municipal Light Department project

Princeton Municipal Light Department turbines on Wachusett Mountain are part of Mass Energy’s green power portfolio. Photo by Sam Feinsilver.

Two municipal light plants. A cranberry farmer. A union hall. Four different schools. A regional wastewater district. A family-owned ski slope. The common thread? All are owners of community-scale wind projects and they can all help you green your electricity.

But how does greening your electricity work? It comes down to Renewable Energy Credits. Green power suppliers purchase renewable energy credits (aka RECs, green tags, renewable energy certificates) on their members’ behalf. RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy commodities that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour of electricity was generated from a renewable energy source.

In order to understand how RECs work, it is important to understand how electricity is generated. In New England, everyone is served by a large, interconnected electricity grid which makes it nearly impossible to deliver energy produced by a specific generator (say, a wind turbine) to a specific end-user (say, your home). So, in order to track generation, the Independent System Operator (ISO) New England (the organization in charge of coordinating the region’s grid) established a system to create, trade, and track certificates (RECs) that describe electricity generated anywhere on the grid by renewable sources (even the solar panels on your home). When you buy RECs, you stake a claim to that electricity, and the REC recombined with physical electricity from the grid that comes to your home then officially becomes green power. While green power suppliers can’t deliver that wind turbine’s electricity directly to your home, RECs give you the exclusive right to claim that enough renewable energy came onto the grid to cover your electricity use. And that means that less electricity had to come from fossil-fueled sources.

Your purchase of RECs can also drive local renewable energy development—but not all RECs are created equal. In order to have the most impact on renewable energy development, your purchase needs to be utilized in the context of a long-term contract. The most beneficial green power program support local renewable energy projects by signing long-term REC purchasing contracts with them, allowing the developer to count on a stable source of funding. Programs are able to sign such contracts by aggregating consumer demand—using the buying power of members (and more members = more contracts). Then, by “retiring” these RECs from the market, green power programs force utilities and other suppliers required to purchase RECs to look elsewhere, creating additional demand.

Green Drinks‘ July and August happy hour co-host can help you purchase RECs and contribute to our local green power system.  The Mass Energy Consumer Alliances’ provides two different programs for members. New England Wind is sourced from 100% local wind power. It costs the average household just 74 cents per day, in addition to regular electricity charges. New England GreenStart is sourced from 100% local wind, solar, low-impact hydro, and digester gas or “cow” power. It costs the average household just 45 cents per day, in addition to regular electricity costs. The resource map below shows the geographical locations of Mass Energy’s various renewable energy credit suppliers.

 Resources Map

Joining with Mass Energy’s green programs not only helps you feel better about your electricity, but meaningfully adds your voice to thousands of others advocating and funding more clean energy projects in New England. Perhaps more important, however, is how the nature of these projects lends itself to a vision of renewable energy development that Mass Energy shares with its members. In almost every case, the projects keep much of their financial gains local, benefiting the communities in which they are sited. For example, Mass Energy buys RECs from the Scituate, MA turbine that was erected in April of this year. Scituate’s turbine has allowed the town to offset some municipal electricity costs—saving the town money that can be used for schools, roads, jobs, and more. Mass Energy and its members are proud of the impact they make for local communities.

Erin Taylor is the Marketing and Membership Manager at the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance.
Originally founded in 1982 as a heating oil cooperative, Mass Energy’s programs now span energy efficiency and green power as well. The green power programs, New England Wind and New England GreenStart, allow members to green their electricity right on their National Grid electricity bill (or, for members in NSTAR or WMECO territory, as a monthly match separate from the bill). Both programs are 100% federally tax-deductible and drive development of community-scale clean energy in Massachusetts.