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How to buy eco-friendly electricity and natural gas at home

Choose clean energy, save money, save planet
Gil Plaks

While the clock ticks for our government to tackle reducing greenhouse gases on a national scale, you can switch to 100 percent clean energy at home today, a change that lasts forever, often saves money and cancels out nearly half your carbon footprint.

Curious what drives your carbon footprint*?
Cars 50%
Electricity 24%
Natural Gas 22%
Trash 4%

The good news is that Maryland is just one of nine states that deregulated both residential electricity and natural gas. Deregulation resulted in consumer competitive pricing, but also many suppliers offer eco-friendly clean energy options as an energy choice. Maryland’s standard electric power is half coal and half nuclear and each residential kWh is about 10¢.

The quick and dirty - GreenLaurel suggests:

Green electricity: Sign-up with Groundswell, a non-profit that brings customers together into a larger buying block and negotiates directly with green electricity suppliers to get lower prices. Last quarter, Groundswell’s price beat the best market rate by 16 percent.

Natural Gas: Lock in a yearly rate by choosing Washington Gas Energy Services natural gas paired with CleanSteps® Carbon Offsets. WGES offers Maryland’s only climate-friendly natural gas option which pairs natural gas with a nifty local offset program designed to reduce Baltimore and the DC metro area’s air pollution. Depending on what month you enroll, prices may be higher or lower than market rates.

Have more questions about switching to green energy? Read on...

What is utility deregulation?
In 1999, Maryland’s energy suppliers were deregulated. This meant that while Maryland’s five utilities still own the lines that bring electricity and natural gas into your home, competing firms could buy electricity and natural gas from different sources and sell it directly to consumers. Utilities still service and bill their customers, but consumers can choose their electricity and natural gas suppliers.

What does choosing a wind energy supplier mean?
Wind energy is offered to consumers by offsetting conventional electricity with third-party certified renewable energy certificates (REC). Each REC equals 1,000 kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by wind in the U.S. Wind farm developers sell RECs to help cover the significant costs of wind-energy projects. For those who wonder how real RECs are, Maryland’s green electricity options are Green-e certified by an independent consumer protection program. To learn more about RECs, click here.

How do consumers compare rates?
Similar to mobile plans, comparing your utility’s green electricity options is mind-boggling. Click here to view Maryland's electricity pricing plans kindly updated by the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel and search for green options.

Why does GreenLaurel recommend Groundswell?
1. Better pricing than you can get on your own. By a lot.

2. Groundswell keeps track of your contract length going forward. When your contract term ends, they re-negotiate rates and send info to you on how to re-enroll. Enrolling with Groundswell is a one time action that means you've checked off the "buy green energy" box for as long as Groundswell exists.

Does GreenLaurel profit in any way from Groundswell sign-ups?
No. Thanks for clicking on GreenLaurel when you answer, “how did you hear about us?” Fun to see if people go green.

What changes, if any, can I expect if I switch energy suppliers?
You will not experience any service and billing changes, your utility will still service and distribute electricity and bill your home. The only change you will notice is a new line item on your bill for your green electricity charge (# kilowatts multiplied by price per kilowatt.) Ditto for natural gas.

Similar to mobile phone plans, electricity supplier plans vary:

  • Suppliers usually offer a fixed price for a specific contract period (6 months, 1 or 2 years) and a mix of 50 or 100 percent renewable power.
  • A note of caution, according to Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel, variable rates jumped 400 percent during the Polar Vortex winter weather. Locking into a 1 year rate gives you peace-of-mind.
  • There are cancel fees if you cancel or switch to a competing firm before your contract term expires.
  • There is no utility or supplier switch fee if you choose an alternate supplier.
  • You will receive a renewal letter when your contract term is up.

Are these electric suppliers legitimate?
You will not be the first to switch suppliers, 26 percent of Maryland homes have switched electricity suppliers; with over 50 percent of BGE customers choosing alternate suppliers. According to Climate Communication Consortium of Maryland, seven percent of Maryland residences have chosen green energy - about one-third have gone green!

All Maryland electricity and natural gas suppliers are registered with Maryland’s Public Service Utility Commission. And, the Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel keeps a close eye on this process for Maryland’s consumers.

How do I enroll in Groundswell?
Complete Groundswell’s digital pledge card and Groundswell will contact you. Or, enroll by clicking here.

How do I enroll in Washington Gas Energy Services climate-friendly natural gas product?
Click here and enter your zip code and click residential for the products available to your area. Choose the CleanSteps® Carbon Offsets program. You may or may not pay a price premium. Check monthly BGE natural gas prices here or google your utility's rates.

I’m loving lowering my carbon footprint, any other big ideas?
Yes, consider buying offsets for your remaining emissions!

Calculate your remaining emissions and purchase a monthly offset subscription at TerraPass for $5.95 / 1,000 pounds of carbon pollution. Or, choose your

Offset critics contend that buying offsets is greenwashing and assuages a person’s “green guilt.”

GreenLaurel offers this perspective: Now that CO₂ levels have passed 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years, offsetting carbon and being mindful of lowering energy use makes green contributions to clean our air. Also, once people are educated about climate change, they rarely feel better about the topic.

How exactly do I switch on-line if I don’t choose Groundswell?

Choose a green electricity supplier for your utility.
Find your Electric Choice ID # and Natural Gas Choice ID# located on the back of your utility bill, near the top.
Go to supplier’s web site, click on “residential” and then enter your zip code and information.
You will receive letters from both your new supplier and your utility verifying that you chose to switch suppliers.

If you’re the researcher-type, here are some useful web sites to check out: E.P.A. Green Energy, Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland’s Clean Energy Center (supplier list is outdated) and the Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel.

* Average family carbon footprint calculated on EPA’s carbon calculator. Conservative figure of 52,000 pounds for an average family because air travel not included. 2 cars, 11,000 kWh electricity and 93 therms of natural gas/mo.

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