How Third-Party Suppliers Soured the Clean Energy Market
A Guide to Choosing Clean Power in MA
Utilities and energy are a complicated space, and for a busy consumer it can be confusing when trying to make a switch to cleaner energy. In particular, third party suppliers with inflated rates and shady tactics have been an ongoing problem in Massachusetts. Poor experiences with them have turned many customers into skeptics, but there are legitimate ways to reduce your carbon footprint with your electricity choices.
What is competitive supply?
Utility bills are split into two parts – delivery and supply. Delivery is what you pay the utility to be connected to their grid, and have energy brought to your home. Supply is what you pay for the actual energy you use. By default you get your “supply” from the utility itself, but to try and avoid monopolies, Massachusetts also allows what is called “competitive supply” or “third-party supply.” This means getting the supply portion of your bill from another company that’s not the utility. The problem comes when this supplier has a variable rate – that is, their pricing is set “…at the discretion of the competitive supplier.” Some residents that have used these suppliers may have joined looking at a rate that was much lower than the utilities, only to have it jump up above the utility “standard offer” rate a short time later, leaving them worse off than they started.
What are legitimate clean energy offerings?
Some suppliers may market as being a clean energy offering, but they usually have a mix of energy that is not 100% renewable, and they will often be priced at a slight premium. There are better ways to know you’re choosing clean energy.
Perhaps the most obvious one is to install a solar array yourself – you know what’s being produced is clean energy that’s feeding directly into your meter. But for many people, solar requires good credit or a large upfront payment or their home is not sited well for solar.
A REC, or Renewable Energy Certificate, is defined by Mass Climate Action as “… proof of purchase for the attributes of renewable energy generation.” An individual, company, or nonprofit that wants to cut their carbon footprint can buy RECs to offset their usage. This is a way to directly support clean power projects because the project owner gets the money for the RECs, thereby raising the project’s value.
Community solar, or community shared solar (CSS,) is a way to share the benefits of a solar array with multiple participants in a given region. Participants generally save money by getting a discount for on-bill credits that offset their utility bill. A host with good siting for solar will install the array; this installation is supported by the participants who invest or buy credit from the farm. This form of solar is meant as a solution for those who cannot install a solar array themselves. Currently this is one of the best ways to both support local, clean solar energy and benefit by getting electricity bill savings.
You can help make good energy choices by joining a Community Solar Farm.