A Green Energy Guide for Homeowners and Churches

By Laurel Peltier, Greenlaurel, Church of the Redeemer

Living our faith and choosing to be good stewards of our environment can take many forms. A meaningful climate-friendly step is to focus on two key levers that work together: Using less energy while also transitioning from fossil-fueled energy to renewable energy.

STEP #1: REDUCE ENERGY: EmPOWER Maryland Rebates Programs

In 2008, in an effort to help Marylanders take actions needed to cut electricity use, then Gov. O’Malley’s administration developed the state-wide energy efficiency program EmPOWER Maryland.

Most of our homes are energy hogs and new light bulbs, insulation, turning off lights, a good heater and AC unit, and making your home less drafty can significantly cut electricity and natural gas usage. For every dollar of energy efficiency investment, this program generates $2.07 in benefits according to the Public Service Commission.

Scan page 2 of your utility bill and notice the small monthly surcharge that every Maryland utility account pays into the EmPOWER Maryland fund. The money collected is distributed to each of the state’s five regulated utilities who then manage the programs. LED Lightbulbs, smart thermostats, upgraded insulation, home energy audits, and energy saver day credits top the list of efforts.

To access EmPOWER Maryland programs and thousands in rebates, click on your utility.

Or, if you live in Baltimore-area, call 410.929.6139 or visit Civic Works Retrofit Baltimore online.  Retrofit Baltimore energy counselors walk homeowners through the energy efficiency process. Since it can be a tad confusing, Retrofit Baltimore offers free personalized to help you decide the best next steps for your home or apartment.

STEP #2: CHOOSE CLIMATE-FRIENDLY ENERGY TODAY

Renewable energy is now accessible and affordable in all Maryland zip codes.

Solar panels on your roof: If you are interested in installing solar on your rooftop, check out the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors. Bringing together homeowners into buying co-operatives reduces costs. Solar United independent experts have helped hundreds of Marylanders install solar panels. They’ve seen it all.

 

Community Solar: If your rooftop isn’t solar-friendly, or you rent, or don’t have the cash to invest in solar panels, consider off-site Community Solar. Accessible to any Maryland utility account holder, solar farms are sprouting across Maryland. Consumers and businesses buy into a share of these solar farms based on their home’s electricity needs. The renewable energy created at Maryland solar farms is fed directly into the local electricity grid. The idea is that over time local and clean energy will replace dirty electricity generated by coal and fracked natural gas.

Community Solar is affordable and priced lower than your regulated utility’s electricity rates because of sweet Maryland Energy Administration grants. It’s a terrific time to choose renewable because it’s convenient and saves you real money compared to your utility’s offer.

Check out Neighborhood Sun to enroll your home in Community Solar. The solar pricing is simple and tied to current utility electricity rates. Lower and middle income households (about $65,000 per year or lower) save 25% off utility all-in electricity rates. Households that earn more than $65,000 save 10% off their utility all-in rates, which are the combined electricity delivery and supply charges. Feel free to email GreenGrace volunteer Laurel Peltier with any questions at laurelpeltier@gmail.com.

What’s up with “renewable” energy suppliers?

Maryland’s 1999 Energy Deregulation Act opened the doors for alternative energy suppliers to offer electricity and natural gas supply in addition to your local utility. This means that your regulated utility (BGE, PEPCO, SMECO, Potomac Edison or Delmarva) distributes electricity and gas through their poles and wires to buildings, but consumers and businesses can choose an alternative electricity or natural gas supplier.  Consumers do not have to switch suppliers. If they don’t, their local utility is by default their energy supplier.

Suppliers can offer “renewable energy” plans because they buy Renewable Energy Certificates to offset the dirty electricity.

  1. Homeowners: Here’s the bottom line: It’s complicated and many accounts are overpaying – sometimes a lot – for the same energy offered by their utility. Energy suppliers usually market “lower deregulated prices,” but contracts and terms are often confusing, and rates are often variable. Regulated utilities offer fixed prices. No reporting exists in Maryland to verify what the “green” energy plan really is. Bottom line: Be careful, especially switching your natural gas (not recommended). Third-party suppliers are best for organized folks with a clear understanding of their electricity and gas supply prices and big energy users. Supplier electricity and gas savings can be small and only make sense for larger accounts. The web site point.click.switch.com is a safe bet if Community Solar doesn’t appeal. Listen to this NPR radio show to learn more about renewable energy suppliers in Maryland.
  2. For churches: Don’t go it alone. Consider contacting the commercial energy broker Bollinger Energy (Gary@bollingerenergy.com). The key reason is that Bollinger tracks your parish’s contract termination dates and will make sure your church supplier account(s) are optimized. Many churches have lost track of their contracts and their energy rates increased.

© The Washington Post

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