‘Green’ power doesn’t have hefty price tag

06/06/2014 9:27 PM

06/07/2014 8:58 AM

Changing your home to a renewable electric plan is a personal way of lowering your family’s greenhouse gas emissions by about half — and for about the same cost as power from some of those dirty coal plants.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency came out with a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric plants by 30 percent by 2030.

But North Texas households that aren’t in an electric cooperative or municipal power plan — meaning most of us — can already walk away from coal-fired plants by buying one of dozens of renewable plans from almost 50 electric providers. And several are among the lowest rates offered in the marketplace.

Seven electric plans with 100 percent renewable energy were selling this week for under 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, not much more than the lowest-cost nonrenewable plans posted for the area on the Public Utility Commission website PowerToChoose.org. The website provides shoppers with an up-to-date list of all retail electric plans in the Oncor service area.

The lowest nonrenewable plans were selling for 9 cents a kilowatt-hour.

As of the end of this week, the leader among the renewable plans was Breeze Energy, a Dallas-based company that offers only renewable plans. The retail provider has a 12-month fixed-rate plan for 9.5 cents per kwh for households using 1,000 a month and 9.1 cents for those using 2,000.

Competition has made the premium that consumers used to pay when buying renewable plans go away, but you have to shop carefully. (The Star-Telegram publishes the lowest rates each Saturday on the Business pages.)

The PUC website, which posts prices and term lengths for electric contracts, shows 55 all-renewable electric plans available for the area. That’s a big increase from 2006, when just three providers offered plans for renewable electricity and prices were 4 or 5 cents higher than nonrenewable plans.

But as with nonrenewable plans, it pays to shop around.

Today’s renewable plans for 1,000 kwh a month range from 9.5 cents to 13.9 cents per kwh, mirroring the nonrenewable plan range of 9 to 13.9 cents.

This difference can turn into considerable savings for the household budget. Based on usage of 1,000 kwh a month, the highest renewable plans would cost $139, compared with $95 for the lowest.

Multiply that savings over a year and you can save $528. Raise the energy use to 2,000 kwh a month and you will save more than $1,000 with the lower-cost plan.

You can consider other factors, like customer complaints, when picking a plan. But complaints have dropped significantly since the early days of electricity deregulation, and company reliability has stabilized. PowerToChoose.org includes a customer complaint rating.

When you buy a renewable plan, your electric provider takes the amount of energy you use each month and buys renewable-energy credits, which are used to buy renewable power off the electric grid.

Using renewable power takes a huge bite out of your household carbon dioxide emissions, according to the EPA. In fact, in most households it is the biggest way to trim your emission levels.

Household emission levels can be calculated at the EPA’s website, www.epa.gov. Just search for “Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.” Answer a few questions, like your ZIP code and family size, then add information about your cars, mileage, recycling and power usage.

When I put in my data, it showed that a $200 monthly electric bill would translate into 24,754 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted into the air a year, much higher than my three cars (around 10,100 pounds a year), my natural gas usage (6,400 pounds a year) or my household waste emissions (around 4,000 pounds).

I clicked on the “renewable electric plan” option in the calculator, and it took my CO2 levels down to zero for electric use.

Overall, the average U.S. household emits 83,000 pounds of CO2 a year. By putting my house on a renewable plan, I cut mine to 21,500 pounds.

Renewable power has increased significantly in Texas in recent years, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator for most of the state.

In 2003, wind power made up less than 1 percent of total electric generation for the grid, ERCOT said.

Last year, that figure grew to 9.9 percent, and in a low-demand month like April, wind power accounted for 15 percent of generation.

On March 26, wind generation in Texas set a record for the state and the nation, providing nearly 29 percent of the 35,768 megawatts of electricity being used on the ERCOT grid.

ERCOT said 89 percent of residential customers have switched electric providers at least once since deregulation in 2000.

Next time you switch, think about powering your house with a renewable plan.

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