September 19, 2014

Want Clean Energy: Try Your Utility

Not ready to install solar panels or put a wind turbine out back? You might have another option: purchasing renewable energy from your electric company.  Many electric utilities let commercial and residential customers pay extra to have more electricity sourced from renewables, such as solar, wind, biomass or hydropower. As utilities face mounting pressure to wean off fossil fuels, such programs help them pay for large-scale renewable energy projects. It can also help them meet and exceed state or local government mandates that require utilities produce a certain percentage of their electricity from renewables.

renewable energy collage

Of course, you’re essentially paying your utility to generate more of its electricity from renewables – You aren’t necessarily getting that clean electricity piped into your business. But it can be a great way to support the expansion of renewable energy without the big investment costs of producing it yourself. It can also be a good way to show your commitment to clean energy to your customers and help your business achieve green certifications, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”).

Xcel Energy, (full disclosure, my electric provider) offers its Windsource program to business and residential customers in Minnesota, Colorado and other states. For an additional monthly charge ranging from under $1 to more than $10, businesses can pay to have part or all of their electricity usage generated through wind power. (Xcel has more than 60 wind turbines devoted to the program.) PSEG, a New Jersey utility, says that customers who participate in its CleanPower Choice program, which sources electricity from a variety of renewables, “can avoid over 10,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions per year, which is equivalent to planting 1.35 acres of trees!

Customers of FirstEnergy Corp., which has utilities in several northeastern states, can choose among electric suppliers that are licensed with the state’s public utility commission to sell electricity in their area. So a business can select a supplier that sources most or all of its electricity from renewables.

A useful tool for finding utility green power programs is available on the EPA’s web site, as well as the EPA’s Guide to Purchasing Green Power.

Do some research before you spend extra money on your utility’s green power program. It’s good to know how your money is being spent (and your customers might care, too). There are other ways to  support green energy production, such as buying renewable energy certificates (RECs) through a company like NativeEnergy. It’s a similar concept to utility-based programs, but you get more choice over which clean energy projects to support.


Renewable Energy Photo via Shutterstock

2 Comments ▼

Kelly Spors


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

2 Reactions

  1. The sad thing about programs like this is that Xcel Energy are paying the independent electric generators off-setting cost (almost nothing) for the energy and turn around and sell it a a premium price. They are using the program to increase their bottom line not for environmental purposes.

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