How I powered my house on 100% renewable energy for the price of a burrito

Photo by Gustavo Quepón on Unsplash
“Though 5–25% more [renewable energy] may not seem like much, with over 105,000 households participating, we’ve been able to support 80 more [renewable energy] projects since summer began.” — Mass Energy

I, am a “yippie” (hippie + yuppie). I recycle, I have a worm compost bin, I’ve had an energy audit, for peets sake I drive a Subaru while living in the People’s Republic of Somerville. But, I haven’t put solar panels on my roof.

Don’t get me wrong, I used to have FOMO about not going solar. Two of my friends have solar panels on their roof. I dream of buying a Tesla and powering it from the sun. But I’ll be honest, I don’t want to pay $15-20,000.

For Somerville residents. Not in Somerville? Skip ahead.

Go Green in Somerville!

Then one day back in July, the City of Somerville announced a new electricity bulk buying program for residents (other cities have too), called Somerville Community Choice Electricity (Somerville CCE: https://somervillecce.com/) (press release). Here’s the gist:

  • 👍 Somerville opted everyone into a renewable energy program that buys 5% more renewable energy than MA requires.
  • ⛈ Or you could opt-out, and keep whatever the state requires
  • ☀️ Or you could opt-in for 100% renewable by calling Dynegy.

There were a bunch of numbers, $ signs, decimals and kWh symbols. That’s the last time you’ll see kWh, I’m using ⚡️ instead, cuz it’s all nonsense.

How much this would cost us? I did the math, $8 more per month.

So I looked at my utility bill and looked at our highest energy usage month of August, we used 13⚡ each day. It was hot, A/C is nice. Then I looked back at the letter and it said current Eversource rate is $0.11 per ⚡️ and the 100% green rate is $0.13 per ⚡️. I would have paid … $8 more August and that’s the most expensive month!

Then I checked a wonderful site called Project Sunroof, which quickly told me that my best option was to buy panels and they’d cost me $14,000.

It’s going to take me a lot of $8's to get to $14,000, and I’m not going to be at my current place that long. I called Dynegy (Somerville’s provider) and signed up. My house’s energy is now powered by a mix of solar, wind, and hydro from New England.

For non-Somerville residents.

Massachusetts for the Win!

You might be saying, well that’s good in hippie land, but what about my town? Well, your town may have a similar program (Arlington, Brookline, Somerville, Sudbury, Winchester, Melrose, and Dedham all do). Neat!

If not, don’t fear. I spoke with Abigail Krich of Boreas Renewables, who specializes in the electricity markets for large renewable energy projects in New England (think big wind farms and huge solar projects), and she mentioned another program:

“Another option for people living somewhere that doesn’t have this municipal aggregation deal is to have MassEnergy buy RECs to match 100% of your kWh usage through their New England Wind program. It’s just 3.8 cents extra per kWh, a tiny bit more than the Somerville program, but because MassEnergy is a nonprofit and they actually retain the REC and never give it to you, the cost is actually tax deductible. This is the program we use to buy RECs to make up for the fact that we’re selling the RECs from our solar panels.”

How it works:

  1. Go to massenergy.org,
  2. Pick your renewable option (100% or 25%)
  3. Fill out a short form
  4. Pay your utility bill as normal. 😎

⚠️ Note: Some programs around the country like this can be scams, so be careful. That’s why I wrote this story. For New England friends, look for something like this “The Somerville 100% Local Green offer comprises MA Class 1 Renewable Energy Certificates equal to one hundred (100) percent of a consumer’s metered consumption.” You want your program to buy “Renewable Energy Certificates” and “MA Class 1 Renewable” is the good stuff (sun, wind, water… and heart).

🚀 Lets fix the planet together! You didn’t want that burrito anyways.

— —

FAQ:

Q: I can afford to buy solar panels and I plan to stay in my house for 5–10 years, should I?

A: Yes! Check out Project Sunroof for a quick and dirty calculation. There’s also a detailed post here: http://www.bostonsolar.us/solar-blog-resource-center/blog/why-now-is-the-time-to-go-solar-in-massachusetts/ (it’s by an installer… so take it with a grain of salt).

Q: Does this actually work?

A: Yes! Here’s a snippet from the Mass Energy newsletter (thanks Abby!).

“Arlington, Brookline, Somerville, Sudbury, Winchester, Melrose, and Dedham have helped Mass Energy add more green power to the grid!

As a result, we’ve been able to support at least 80 more projects since summer began.”

— Mass Energy

Q: Is the solar/wind/hydro power going directly to my house?

A: Energy is a funny thing, it’s all made up anyways. Abigail explains, “Imagine a bathtub full of water — that’s all the electricity everyone is using. And there are different kinds of water being poured in, Perrier, Poland Springs, murky water, etc. Each of us has a straw and is drinking from the bathtub — that’s our individual electricity usage. I drink the mix of water that’s in the tub. However, if I sign up to a program like the one above, I’m saying “hey, I want someone to add some of that 5 sips of fancy bubbly water because that’s how much I’m going to drink.” So the more people ask for the fancy bubbly water, the cleaner the bathtub becomes.” Pew pew!

Q: Does this program cover distribution costs?

A: Who are you? J/k. No, that’s still separate. Your bill has generation (make the ⚡️’s) and distribution (send you the⚡’s).

Q: Can I go green and save even more money?

Not available in Somerville, Cambridge or Boston boroughs.

A: Yes! Here’s how to say 15% more from Abigail Krich: “And if you really want a clean-energy, money-saving hack, a) sign up with MassEnergy (you’re purchasing your RECs there) and b) switch your supplier from Eversource (or Dynegy) to NexAmp’s Community Solar program (disclosure: they are a client of mine but I was not asked by them to plug this program nor do I receive any compensation for suggesting it — I just think it’s great!). They’ll sell you electricity at 15% less than the utility would have, saving you about half of what the MassEnergy RECs cost, making it even more affordable to go green. Bam!” Bam indeed, bam indeed.

I reached out to NexAmp for comment about Somerville availability and it sounds like it might be coming soon: “Our community solar program is available to essentially all of Massachusetts residents outside of Boston and its surrounding suburbs. We currently have projects in western, central, and south-eastern Mass, and will be building a project north of Boston that will become available next year. Historically, it has been difficult for us to build community solar projects in the Boston area because the land is already so densely developed, and that’s why we are unable to accommodate residents in Somerville at this time.”

What did I miss? Holler at me.

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