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Let's Talk Wind


On this Earth Day, a lot of people examine how their actions affect the environment -- the water, the air, the ground, animal life and even the lives of other people.

As I study for the first tier of the LEED professional certification process -- called LEED Green Associate -- I find myself almost unconsciously performing more "green" oriented actions, from picking up more trash that's outside to using a lot less water at home to combining trips when I'm out and about driving around.

They see -- and I see -- that there's some easy ways to have a positive impact on the environment. And then there's ways that have a lot more steps. Many people take the easy way, while others go down that road of true commitment. It's a longer and more winding road, but very worthwhile in the long run.*

When it comes to doing something easy, though, you can start right at home with your current utility service. At Electric Advisors (EA), we are an agent of Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES)**, which offers two "local" wind packages that can serve as your electricity supply. When you choose "local" wind, you'll no longer be using so-called "brown," non-renewable energy.

There's a company out there -- a competitor of ours, actually -- that is offering "national" wind to its customers. This means that its wind power is coming from plants in Texas and Iowa. Now don't get me wrong ... their power is indeed "green." The problem I see with it, though, is that it doesn't help our local environment. It certainly helps the people in Texas and Iowa breathe cleaner, though.

Our "local" wind offering, however, comes from wind farms in the mid-Atlantic region. Power generated from these plants directly displaces electricity produced by the coal-fired facilities on the electricity grid that serves the mid-Atlantic.

How does this work? The following explanation is somewhat of an oversimplification, but it works for our purposes. Let's say that our area's electrical grid is like a glass pitcher. In other words, it has a defined capacity that cannot be exceeded. Right now, it is filled mainly with small brown marbles, which represent non-renewable forms of electricity (mainly coal and natural gas).

When people like you start buying green electricity from local wind farms, those brown marbles start being replaced with green ones. This means green purchases from people like you displace non-renewable energy on the grid. When enough people buy green via local wind, more brown marbles come out of the pitcher, replaced by green marbles.

We do have a more-complete explanation of all things green, in the frequently asked questions page of the Green section at our EA Web site.

The "local" part does come with a trade-off, though. Our local wind is a bit more expensive than their national wind. Since power prices frequently change, it really doesn't do me a lot of good to post them here. You're more than free to comparison shop yourself (we post all of our prices right here at the EA site). But I did want you to know a cost trade-off does exist between local and national wind power.

UPDATE 04/22/2010, 1:15 PM ET: Because I can't let a proverbial sleeping dog lie, I decided to do a quick check of one set of rates. As of the time of this post, Pepco Maryland customers' rate would be 0.3ยข more (that's three-tenths of a cent, not three or four whole cents) for our 1-year, 50% local wind package -- as opposed to our competition's 50% national wind rate.

If you home uses 920 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a month (the national average in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), our rate totals just $2.76 a month more for our local wind. What's more, our 50% local wind rate actually beats Pepco's Cost to Compare figure (found on your Pepco bill).

If those numbers are a bit difficult to follow, just remember that our 50% local wind rate is just a slight bit more expensive than our competitor's.

The difference in 100% wind packages is a bit wider: For Pepco Maryland customers, the difference is one full penny per kWh. For that average home, your supply/transmission rate would be $9.20 per month more with us than our competition. Some households can afford that to have 100% local wind. Others may not be able to.

So if you want to buy green for your home electricity supply, you have a choice: Go with either the national wind that's less expensive but doesn't help our local environment, or choose the local wind option that will cost you a bit more, but you'll have a positive impact on our air pollution and acid rain.

To learn more and to see our rates, check out our Residential Green page at the EA site.

Here's a different scenario: You go to the Residential section of our Web site, and you notice that our standard electricity-package rate is good. We're talking really good. But you're feeling guilty that it's not one of the "local" wind packages. You'd like to go green, but you just can't afford the higher rates.

Well, don't feel bad. Even our standard packages have a local wind component of 5%, which represents more renewable energy than what you get if you chose to continue with your current utility. So if you choose to lower your rates with us via our standard package, you'll still be having an impact on our area's environment. What's more, our standard package option is something our closest competitor doesn't even offer to you.

On our commercial side (for commercial property owners and those businesses that pay their own utility bills), we offer quite a few ways to go the "green" route that don't involve setting up a windmill or a solar panel on your roof.* We have a lot of options available, so a good first step for you is to go to our Commercial Green page.

On that note, I'm not sure if people really say "Happy Earth Day." But I'll say it anyway: Happy Earth Day!


*Then there's a third category of people: Those who start with the easy path, discover they like it, and want to go down the longer path. If you are ready to take the true plunge into solar, wind or geothermal at your own household or place of business, we at EA know of people and companies that can help you out. Just let us know via the Contact form at the bottom of our About page, and one of our energy-services advisors here at EA will get back to you.

**WGES is not the same as Washington Gas, the natural-gas utility. WGES buys both electricity and natural gas supplies for its residential and commercial customers. EA is an agent for WGES on the residential side; on the commercial side, WGES is one of several vendors we have for energy-supply services.

Tagsearth day, electricity, Green, leed

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