So what the heck is a green plan?

Crain’s Chicago Business has shined a spotlight on a “green” plan offered by Ethical Electric, which has been CUB’s biggest source of questions this year among dozens of alternative electric and gas suppliers.20150923_EthicalElectric_blog

A direct mail piece by Ethical is short on detail on the plan’s actual cost, and how it compares to ComEd. The fine print says the price is 9.4 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)–but for just three months. Then it’s a variable rate that can change monthly.

The 9.4 cent initial price, by the way, is about 30 percent higher than ComEd’s current rate.

An Ethical Electric official says the company’s claim that customers will pay a “little more” is not deceptive. Still, electricity shoppers deserve to get complete and accurate info about any plan they’re considering, and we have a database full of people who were confused by Ethical’s pitch.

Generally, one big point of confusion among consumers is over what a “green” plan actually is. Signing up for green energy does NOT guarantee that energy from renewable sources—wind and solar farms—is being pumped into your home. According to CUB’s fact sheet on “green” plans, there’s just no easy way to determine if the electricity you’re constantly consuming is coming from a nuclear plant, wind turbine, a coal plant or any of the thousands of sources of power.

Instead signing up for a green offer means that you’re purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). So, for example, if you’re on a 100 percent renewable energy plan, as Ethical markets, it means that for every kWh of electricity you use the same amount of renewable energy is being added somewhere on the grid—not necessarily to your microwave.

CUB supports renewable energy. If consumers want to pay a premium for green power and they have full details on the pricing, they should be able to choose a green plan if they want. But don’t forget that the utilities have green power too. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires Amer en and ComEd to supply a certain percentage of renewable energy (10 percent now, 25 percent by 2025). Just like with the alternative suppliers, RECs are purchased to help Illinois utilities comply with that law.

Also, you don’t have to pay more for electricity to do good for the environment. The best way to help the planet and your pocketbooks is by reducing your electricity consumption (energy efficiency!) and/or moving your electricity demand to off-peak hours. Here are two optional programs to do that:

CUB Energy Saver is a free online tool that’s filled with energy-saving actions you can take to cut your bill. Plus, it rewards you with restaurant and shopping gift cards.

Peak Time Savings, offered by ComEd, is a no-risk program that allows people with new digital electric meters to get a bill credit for reducing their energy usage during certain summer days. By reducing power usage during peak hours (usually hot summer afternoons), consumers can get a financial benefit, and they help reduce the need to run expensive, high-polluting power plants.

(Want to know more about programs that shift usage to off-peak times? Check out Real-Time Pricing, for ComEd customers, and Power Smart Pricing, for Ameren customers.)

Remember, having choice in the market means you–and not some sales pitch–determines how your home defines what it means to be “green.”


About Jim Chilsen

Jim is director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB)
This entry was posted in Alternative electric/gas suppliers, ComEd, Electric bills, Energy, energy efficiency, Environment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to So what the heck is a green plan?

  1. A frugal environmentalist says:

    And one more thing, Jim. Your advice to reduce electricity energy consumption was fine 20 years ago. Today, however, we have Chevy Volt’s and Carrier Greenspeed heat pumps available. Both save money. Both reduce carbon emissions. And both increase your electricity use. When you consider the EPA rules calling for Illinois to cut its electricity utility emissions by half by 2030 the use of these technologies will become even cleaner. So, if my Chevy Volt has carbon emissions of 3000 pounds per year today, by the year 2030 it will go down to 1500 pounds per year. The same analysis applies to my heat pump. So, given my emissions today are slightly less than what they were under the old natural gas and petroleum system, my emissions will be half of what they otherwise would be by following your advice of using natural gas and petroleum. Yes, Jim, it is very clear that we need to use MORE electricity to save the environment, not less.

  2. A frugal environmentalist says:

    It is much cheaper and you accomplish the same thing by signing up for ComEd’s Residential Real Time Pricing then buying your renewable energy certificates on your own. Residential Real Time Pricing is BY FAR the least expensive option for homeowners in the ComEd region. If you are not signed up for RRTP you may as well flush your money down the toilet. Also, the state of Illinois buys renewable energy certificates to meet their renewable portfolio standards – except that the state pays about 6 times more. And yes, you are paying for that inefficient state program one way or another. The state should buy certificates on the open market like everyone else does to save the citizens of Illinois money. By the way, Jim, almost all scientists believe we should rely more on nuclear power. It is a little disingenuous for Democrats to say they believe climate change is real because they listen to scientist but when it comes to nuclear energy the say scientists don’t have all the answers. Every politician and Sierra Club member I know has said exactly the same thing. I wonder what Jack Darin would be saying had the Sierra Club not taken in $100 million from natural gas cheerleader and investor Michael Bloomberg.

  3. Ken says:

    What I would like to know is, if I sign up for a Green Plan, will Ethical Electric actually supply additional power to the grid, or are they already supplying as much as is available? i.e. can I influence how much they supply, or does it just meant that they will charge me for it, so I can feel better about my electricity consumption?

  4. Ken says:

    “Green Plan” sounds like what is known as “greenwashing”., which means a company is making dubious claims about saving the planet. .

    • Jim Chilsen says:

      Hey Ken: Green plans are legitimate choices for people. We just want people to have all the facts so they sign up for such a plan with their eyes wide open. Take care, sir. Thanks for the comments.

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