How to buy certified renewable energy power

NREL releases top 10 ‘green power’ utilities of 2010

Can’t invest in your own clean energy system? If you’re a customer of one of the 850 utilities offering Green Power Programs around the U.S., you can just purchase the renewable energy directly from them.

Here’s how to make sure that the clean energy power you buy is

  1. from new renewable energy projects
  2. is verified by an independent audit
  3. has not been double-counted (e.g. not also counted toward a state’s renewable energy goal)

First, some background.  Signing up for green power does not mean you are necessarily purchasing the electricity “” the utility would be purchasing Renewable Energy Credits, which are the environmental benefits of 1 megawatt-hour of renewable electricity “” and then charging you a premium for that added cost. This is known as the voluntary market for renewable energy.

This is different from the mandatory markets for Renewable Energy Credits, which are created by a legislation which requires utilities in a specific state to procure a certain amount of electricity from renewables.

Due to the demand for renewable energy from consumers, the voluntary market between utilities and their customers has taken off in recent years – growing to support around 6 million MWh of generation in 2010, according to figures released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That’s about a million MWh increase since 2008.

So how does your utility stack up? Here’s a list of the top ten:

Green Pricing Program Renewable Energy Sales
(as of December 2010)
Rank Utility Resources Used Sales (kWh/year) Sales (aMW)a
1 Austin Energy Wind, landfill gas 754,203,479 86.1
2 Portland General Electric Wind, biomass, geothermal 735,745,202 84.0
3 PacifiCorp Wind, biomass, landfill gas, solar 587,373,391 67.1
4 Sacramento Municipal Utility Distric Wind, hydro, biomass, solar 395,537,564 45.2
5 Xcel Energy Wind, solar 388,837,429 44.4
6 Puget Sound Energy Wind, landfill gas, biomass, small hydro, solar 314,892,507 35.9
7 Connecticut Light and Power/ United Illuminating Wind, hydro 229,408,999 26.2
8 CPS Energy Wind 186,880,675 21.3
9 National Grid Biomass, wind, small hydro, solar 167,149,902 19.1
10 We Energies Wind, landfill gas, solar 164,546,605 18.8

Clearly there’s more interest from consumers in these offerings. But there’s one catch: these green power programs don’t necessarily make a utility “greener.”

Often times, these programs aren’t making utilities change their dirty infrastructure “” they’re simply a bonus on top of the existing generation mix that they can sell to environmentally-conscious consumers for a premium. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, assuming those credits help grow new renewable energy generation somewhere else, right? You can’t assume that’s the case. Often times, prices for the credits on the voluntary markets are so low, they don’t impact a developer’s decision to build a project (see “ Good RECs vs. Bad RECs“).

As it’s very hard to prove whether or not an individual REC or broad program is helping develop new generation capacity, this shouldn’t prevent you from participating in a utility’s green power offerings – but it’s certainly something you should think about.

The NREL survey has one good piece of news in this regard:

NREL has also found that more utilities are developing community solar programs, an innovative program design that enables consumers to support local projects. Community solar programs allow customers to purchase a share of a solar system developed in their community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share. Typically, consumers will pay an upfront cost per watt of solar, and then receive a credit on their bill for the kilowatt-hours that their purchase generated.

“Utilities and third-parties are increasingly developing community solar programs as one way to support local renewable energy development,” said NREL analyst Jenny Sumner. “Customers can invest in solar through community solar programs even if they are renters or own homes with shaded roofs.”

You can find where to buy power in any state here.  You can find Community Renewable Energy Programs here.

How to buy certified renewable energy power

The renewable energy that Green”‘e Energy certifies goes through a thorough verification process to ensure that it:

is from new projects. It’s important that renewable energy certificates (RECs) support new projects built for the voluntary market, not to satisfy a state or federal requirement. That’s because consumers who are buying renewable energy want their money to go toward expanding the renewable energy market. Green”‘e Energy Certified RECs come from new facilities built with the voluntary market in mind.

is verified. Sellers of Green”‘e Energy Certified renewable energy are reviewed twice a year to ensure that they live up to their advertising claims, and that their customers are getting what they paid for. Certified energy is accounted for and tracked through the annual Green”‘e Energy verification audit process.

has not been double-counted. Certified renewable energy sold to a consumer cannot also be counted toward a state’s renewable energy goal (a renewable portfolio standard, for example). Renewable energy must only be attributed to the individual customer purchasing it.

These are the criteria you want in any green power program you sign up for.

You can find Green-e certified renewable energy for your home or organization if you click here.

— Stephen Lacey (with Joe Romm)

13 Responses to How to buy certified renewable energy power

  1. paulm says:

    Lots more of this pls!

  2. paulm says:

    4 Canada we have bullfrogpower….. is good for offsets

  3. cmc says:

    The linked article (Good Recs versus bad Recs) claims that Green-E is a very low baseline, akin to labeling hot dogs as all beef. Why is that, if Green-e certification ensures the three things listed here? Does that still hold true?

    [JR: Ahh, I missed that. My impression is they’ve gotten better. I’ll ask.]

  4. David Smith says:

    Buy and install your own power facility… The only way to be 100% renewable. Everything else, while better than the status quo, is still a compromise.

    Many of you out there would spend $15,000 or $35,000 on a new kitchen. Why not spend the money on a clean energy plant and get off the grid instead?

  5. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Very Interesting Post for Renewable Energy Policy makers.

    In India there are is a Third party Sale for the Electricity generated by Renewables by some States.

    State Specific Incentives
    – A number of states have announced policy packages including banking, third party sale and buy-back. Most states have declared buyback rates with some escalation for each subsequent year.
    – Some states are providing concessions or exemption in state sales tax. These rates vary widely from state to state and between different technologies.
    – Fourteen states have so far announced policies for the purchase and support of electrical energy generated from various RE sources.
    – Maharashtra has set up a “green energy fund” for promoting renewable projects.
    – Eleven state regulators have under the National Tariff Policy 2006 passed orders for a minimum offtake of renewable power by distribution licencees (called RPOs; renewable energy purchase obligations).
    State Order Date Renewable Energy Purchase Obligation Andhra Pradesh September 2005 Minimum 5% from 2005-06 to 2007-08 (including a minimum 0.5 per cent from wind). Madhya Pradesh 0.5% Karnataka September 2004 Minimum 5% and maximum of 10% Gujarat October 2005
    Minimum specification:
    – 2006-07: 1%
    – 2007-08: 1%
    – 2008-09: 2%
    September 2005
    DISCOMS to enter into PPAs up to 400 MW with renewable energy sources (including PPAs signed under Policy 1999, Policy 2000, and Policy 2003) Orissa April 2005 To buy 200 million units of green power during 2006-07 at a cost not exceeding the highest cost of thermal power in eastern region Maharshtra Target 250 MW from biomass power projects Tamil Nadu 10% of total power consumption ( still a proposal not an order) Haryana May 2007
    Minimum percentage:
    – 2007-08: 3%
    – 2008-09: 5%
    – 2009-10 & thereafter: 10%
    West Bengal May 4, 2006
    RPOs vary for different licensees:
    – WBSEB: 1.9% in 2006-07 and 3.8% in 2007-08
    – CESC: 1.02% in 2006-07 and 2.03% in 2007-08
    – Durgapur Projects Ltd: 0.72% in 2006-07 and 1.4% in
    – DPSC Ltd: 0.43% in 2006-07 and 0.95% in 2007-08
    Kerala June 2006 Minimum RPO 5%, which will include 2% from SHP, 2% from wind and 1% from sources other than SHP and wind Source: Central Electricity Authority (CEA).
    State Specific Incentives
    A number of states have introduced policies for purchase of electricity from Biomass, wind energy, and small hydro power projects. Here is a summary
    State Wind Power Small Hydro
    Andhra Pradesh 3.37 (Fixed for 5 yrs) 2.69 (04-05) 2.63 (05-06) (Esc @ 1% for 5 yrs) Chhatisgarh — — 2.71 (05-06) Gujarat 3.37 (Fixed for 20 yrs) — 3.00 (No escalation) Haryana — 2.25 (94-95) 4.00 for Biomass and 3.74 for Cogen (Esc @ 2% for base 2007-08) Himachal Pradesh — 2.50 — Karnataka 3.40 (Fixed for 10 yrs) 2.90 2.74 for Cogen and 2.88 for Biomass (Esc @1% for 10 yrs for base04-05) Kerala 3.14 (Fixed for 20 yrs) 2.80 (2000-01) (Esc @ 5% for 5 yrs) Madhya Pradesh 3.97 – 3.30 2.25 3.33-5.14 (Esc @ 0.03-0.08 for 20 yrs) Maharashtra 3.50 (Esc @ 0.15 per yr) 2.25 (99-00) 3.05 for Cogen and 3.04-3.43 for biomass (Esc @ 1% for 13 yrs) Punjab — 2.73 (98-99) 3.01 (01-02) (Esc @ 3% for 5 yrs limited to 3.48) Rajasthan 2.91(Esc@0.05 for 10 yrs) 2.75 (98-99) 3.60-3.96 (Water-air cooled) Tamil Nadu 2.70 (fixed) — 2.73 (2000-01)* (Esc @ 5 % for 9 yrs) Uttar Pradesh — 2.25 2.86 for Existing plants and 2.98 for New plants (Esc @ 0.04 per year)
    +Rate in Rs per unit
    *Rs.2.48 per unit at 5 % escalation for 9 years (2000-01) for off-season power generation using coal/lignite (subject to ceiling of 90% of HT tariff). Note: Policies for wheeling/ banking/ third part sale vary from state to state.
    Source: Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India.

    But the best way is to generate ones own electricity from Renewables like Wind, utilise what is needed for captive use and sell the rest to the Grid.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

  6. I currently help install solar panels and the benefits to this are pretty good if you ask me. Using a natural source to help produce electricity, light and hot water without having to use the grid and pay monthly energy bills.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    David Smith (#3)

    Congratulations on your personally available choices, but please don’t project your circumstances onto the many. I don’t know the demographics of the CP blog readers, by “many” of us out here in the larger USA cannot afford either a new kitchen or a new personal household power facility.

    Here’s a census summary:

    Paying a few pennies per kilowatt to a utility (National Grid) that in turn buys electricity from a wind farm is how I do my bit. My house is located among trees in a shadowy valley and my lot seems too small for drilling for geothermal, so even if I were flush with funds, going off-grid would be most unlikely.

  8. lizardo says:

    I’m surprised no mention of North Carolina Green Power, although it is not properly speaking a utility, however you can purchase blocks of 100 kwh hours for $4 (generated from small to medium scale generation sources).

    You can do this through your utility bill if you live in NC or via their website if you live in NC or anywhere in USA.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    Big thanks to Stephen and Joe for this post on behalf of my children and others of their generation. At a group of over thirty young adults facilitated by my daughter, a big complaint was that as renters they had little control over utilities, particularly if utilities were included in the rent or shared among several housemates. Having the list of options is great for renters who want to negotiate with a landlord or housemates for a change of energy provider.

    But, what is really a scandal are scammy door-to-door sales of not-really-green or not-really-less-expensive generators of electricity or gas. The delivery utility, like National Grid, seems to have no control over that pre-delivery market scuffle for energy customers.
    The list of approved delivery providers doesn’t reach back upstream to sort out the reliable suppliers from the unreliable, at least where I live.

  10. Steve H says:

    My local municipal utility is required,by a ballot measure, to certain RPS goals. One of the ways they have been achieving these goals is to offer what are essentially RECs to customers, which are used to offset the additional costs of solar projects. It is a little over $3 per month for a 100 kwh block, and I have three blocks which just about covers my use outside of July and August. A wonderful little program, because you know it is going to meet a specific goal of increasing RPS.

  11. Peter Anderson says:

    From ethanol to hydraulic fracturing of natural gas and many more dubious biomass projects, concerns about the environment are being exploited and repeatedly hi-jacked by self-interested corporate interests for their own ends.

    Although lesser known, upon closer examination, landfill gas to energy, referenced in this article, is another such industry scam.

    So much methane escapes from landfill gas collection systems (the IPCC says as much as 80%), and so much more when a landfill is goosed to boost the gas’s Btu value to boost profits, that the leakage overwhelms the gains from avoiding power generation and emissions on the utility grid. For that fugitive methane has between 25X and 105X the warming potential of those avoided CO2 emissions.

    With landfill gas have the advantage of costing less than half of the cost for solar and wind, and also being available 24/7, the inclusion of landfill-gas-to-energy in the 24 state renewable portfolio programs is forcing out purchases of solar (9 times as much trash as photovoltaics), which is truly renewable, just as wasting garbage is not.

    The decomposing paper and food that landfill gas is created from would be far better diverted from landfills to anaerobic digesters, where decomposition is controlled in a sealed enclosed vessel, and the remaining digestate can be composted to help restore fertility to our depleted soils. (A good write up from the Sierra Club’s year long due diligence on the subject can be found at ).

    If those committed to a sustainable world do not join hands to draw a line in the sand against this kind of corporate hijacking, then we have no chance to make any progress. For when a climate bill is ultimately enacted, the legislated “remedies” will actually make things far worse, and our opportunity to turn things around will be lost. The persistent idea of acquiescing to unwanted provisions such corn based ethanol and other transgressions like landfill gas as the price of passing a bill is not smart politics, but the road to our ruin.

  12. Unfortunately RECs vary in price and do not usually cover the costs of building generation (over and above wholesale or retail power prices in the US) plus a reasonable profit, which makes them more difficult to use as a means for project developers and homeowners to install renewable energy generation.

    I’m wishing this treatment of the issue would have mentioned that RECs are much less incentivizing means to stimulate investment in renewable energy than are feed in tariffs, priced at a “cost plus cost of capital plus reasonable profit”. The US will lag other nations in the deployment of renewable energy until such time as we stop settling for “rickety” and uncertain means to grow the RE energy industry in the US.

    We are not yet serious about changing our energy system if we don’t create policies that increase investment in renewable energy many-fold. The one policy that has shown the way is the feed in tariff, invented in its earlier forms in the United States, but refined, improved, and used most effectively elsewhere.

  13. @lizardo Thanks for the mention! Though NC GreenPower is a qualified, statewide supporter for renewable energy, you are right that we are not a utility and do not resell the power. In addition, our RECs are not Green-e certified, although they are certifiable and qualify for LEED purchases, as our renewable energy projects meet Green-e certification guidelines.

    Another plus is that none of the renewable energy created on our program goes towards the mandated NC REPS; all of our green power production is voluntary and therefore is on top of the 12.5% by 2021 that our state must meet for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Standard.