As appealing as clean energy is, you might be among the millions of people who can’t put solar panels on their own roof or pop a windmill up in their backyard.
Worry not. Here are two ways you can still get access to power that is not generated by coal, oil or other fossil fuels whose emissions pollute the air and cause climate change.
1) Stick with your utility, but switch to a clean energy provider. Solar and wind companies are setting up arrays of photovoltaic cells or fields of windmills, generating power and then shipping the electricity they generate to utility companies via power lines. The utility companies then distribute that power to customers who opt for clean energy through their existing grid. You get billed by your utility, receive uninterrupted service and if there’s a power outage, you contact your utility company, not the wind or solar provider.
It will cost you a little bit more money but it’s a pretty easy way to support a greater level of utility company investment in renewable energy technologies. The small premium on your electric bill helps cover the incremental cost of the additional renewable energy. As of the end of 2014, nearly 850 utilities across the nation, including investor-owned, municipal utilities and cooperatives, offered a green pricing option, says the U.S. Department of Energy.
You can switch back to primarily fossil fuels at any time without penalty. Usually you can sign up easily online, but as it happens, I signed up with someone who knocked on my door and had all the paperwork ready to go.
To find a clean energy provider in your area, contact your local utility company and find out who they do business with. You can get their number from your monthly bill or simply by searching for your utility by name on the internet.
Several companies compare all of the providers in your area to show the varying rates per kilowatt hour the companies charge. For example, ChooseEnergy.com provides rate comparisons for the following states: California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C.
You can also check this map developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. Click on your state to find out where green power is offered nearby. You’ll find utility green pricing programs (how much utilities charge to deliver non-fossil fuel power to your home) and a variety of other options for avoiding coal, gas and oil.
2) Join a solar coop or network. The Community Power Network is a great resource for consumers who want to support solar but don’t have the ability to install it on their own homes. You’ll find a variety of models to choose from.
For example, the Farmers Electric Cooperative’s Solar Garden Program in Iowa invites customers to buy part of a “solar garden” located at its main office building in exchange for a reduction in their monthly bill.
In the “Special Purpose Entity Model,” individuals join in a business enterprise to develop a solar project the community shares. In my own state of Maryland, the University Park Community Solar LLC and Greenbelt Community Solar set up limited liability companies that enables Maryland residents to develop solar power generation on buildings in the community.
In nearby Washington, D.C., the Sidwell Friends School (attended by Pres. Obama’s daughters) invited members of the community to purchase “solar bonds” so a solar system could be installed on the school.
There’s even an option for people who live in apartment buildings. Grid Alternatives is a nonprofit that helps people install solar on multi-family buildings by working together to get financing and figure out what photovoltaic system works best for the structure at hand.
Want to get started in your own community? Check out this Guide to Community Shared Solar put together by the U.S. Department of Energy.