Cheap Seats 2019
It’s Not Easy Going Green - 01/30
By Rich Trzupek
Like me, you may have recently received a solicitation from an organization styling itself as “Clean Choice Energy” with an “Important Notice for Illinois Residents.” The company offers Illinois residents the opportunity to choose clean energy, assuring us it couldn’t be easier. All we have to do is sign the form they provide, handily pre-checked and everything.
By signing, we will “…authorize Clean Choice Energy to enroll my address shown at the left for 100 percent renewable energy.” What more could anyone who wants to save dear old momma earth ask for?
It all sounds terrific and is sure to pander to the egos of people who think the planet needs saving, allowing them to rest securely in their moral superiority. But, when you take a closer look…
As I have noted in the past, nobody who buys power off the grid is, or can be, powered by one hundred percent renewable energy. That unfortunate fact doesn’t stop some people from making the claim. The city of Georgetown, Texas is but one example of people making such a bogus claim.
It’s bunk. Electrons fed on to the grid head follow the path of least resistance, flowing “downhill” as it were, where a combination of shortest distances and greatest demand determine where those electrons are actually used. A wind farm located downstate near Bloomington, for example, is much more likely to provide power for folks in the Bloomington-Normal area than it is for citizens of Skokie or Barrington.
To their credit, Clean Choice Energy acknowledges this fact, albeit in the fine print. They say, in part, the following about the product they want you to buy:
“Electricity is the product of a mix of energy sources delivered over a system of wires. You will not have electricity from a specific generation facility delivered to Your service address. The energy your home uses will be paired with renewable energy sources through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (‘RECs’).”
Hooray for honesty. This is the way renewable energy actually works. People don’t buy renewable energy, they buy a supplier’s capacity to generate renewable energy, and there is a limited amount of renewable energy that can be packed on the grid at any one time.
Then there’s the price. Clean Choice Energy sets the price of its power at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). That might seem attractive, given that the average residential rate in Illinois is around 9.5 cents per kWh according to the United States Energy Information Administration.
Don’t be fooled though, because the 9.5 cents per kWh is all inclusive, including not just the cost to generate the juice, but transmission charges, delivery charges, taxes and other fees. The 6.8 cents per kilowatt you’d pay Clean Choice Energy for supply is actually a bit higher than the what you’d typically pay for non-renewable power supply as a residential customer in Illinois.
To be fair again, Clean Choice Energy does acknowledge these facts in the fine print as well, saying, in part:
“ComEd will continue to charge, and You will be responsible for paying, all charges imposed by ComEd for delivery and other ComEd assessed charges. You must also pay all applicable federal, state and local taxes and charges.”
They also do not guarantee the 6.8 cents per kWh supply rate, warning potential customers that the actual price is variable and could change based on a number of factors.
Now if you want to go all green dear reader, please have at it. But don’t forget that cash is green too, and a good many of these schemes are much more about the money than the environment. Let the buyer beware.