Coach Dave’s Playbook
When approaching our community solar partners about sharing power, we often talk a lot about the benefits of those sites switching to wind in addition to hosting community solar, or our “switch & share” model. But what does that really mean?
First, and perhaps most importantly, it means potentially saving a lot of money on your organization’s electricity bill. But the value of switching to wind goes far beyond your bottom line.
It also means opting to purchase electricity generated from clean sources instead of fossil fuel-burning power plants (which is where your electricity comes from by default). Yes, you read that right—if you live in DC or Maryland (or a number of other states and jurisdictions that allow it), customers can actually choose where their electricity comes from, as opposed to being stuck with the default source. But it's not automatic, so you have to consciously make the choice to opt-in.
Here’s how it works
Every utility company in the country utilizes a different “mix” of fuels to produce electricity. Here in DC, our local utility—PEPCO—relies on coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants to produce nearly 95 of the electricity for the region. Only 5 percent of electricity comes from renewable sources (per 2016 data).
PEPCO owns the power lines, so they will always “deliver” the electricity to us and send us a bill each month, but Pepco doesn’t generate the electricity—the utility company simply maintains the poles and wires that brings the electricity to our homes and offices. When a customer decides to switch to wind, they are determining the source of the electricity being generated.
It is up to each state to determine whether to provide utility customers with this choice. In the 16 states that have created the necessary conditions—known as a deregulated electricity market—the local utility is still responsible for distributing electricity to customers, but competing electricity providers are allowed to generate or purchase new energy—clean or otherwise—wholesale and sell it directly to customers. Providers can be diverse; some own their own wind turbines and wind farms, so they’re both generating and selling electricity back into the market. Others simply buy electricity from the source generators, like a privately-owned wind farm, and sell that to customers. Customers that choose a competitive provider will still have that electricity delivered by their local utility company and will typically continue to receive a consolidated bill from them, showing the usual charges with a line item showing the energy generated from the new provider. The local utility company will still be responsible for any power outages, and there are no physical changes to their building’s wires or meters. The only real change, from the customer’s perspective, is the price for the new electricity portion of the utility bill and the type of new electricity purchased.
While we encourage all of our community solar partners to make the switch to wind in addition to sharing power, due to the nature of the retail electricity market, wind isn’t always the right choice for families. Small businesses and community organizations, however, can often save upwards of 20 percent on their electricity bills by switching.
As a nonprofit, Groundswell’s mission is to make clean energy more accessible to all communities, with a particular focus on communities that have been traditionally excluded from the clean energy movement. Let’s take our power as consumers into our own hands, and make a conscious—and conscientious—decision about where we’re spending those utility dollars each month.