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EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Taking your electricity supply into your own hands

John Oppermann

20 Apr 2018

20 April 2018

Several relatively recent trends in the electricity market allow people to influence their own electricity supply and support a transition to renewable energy. 

John Oppermann, Executive Director of the Earth Day Initiative, writes about Earth Day Initiative’s Do Just 1 Thing campaign focused on how people can green their lifestyles by just making a change towards renewable energy. 

Every spring we hear the same question again and again from individuals around the world:  “What’s one thing I can do to help the environment?”  Earth Day is one day a year when people take their own environmental pulse.  They take a moment to assess their own impact and make changes small and large to green their lifestyles.  

People are clamoring to do good, but often they are very confused about how to go about doing so.  They see lists of a hundred ways they can green their lifestyle and they are overwhelmed by the options so they put it off until another day and wind up not acting at all.  So after getting the same question again and again, “What’s one thing I can do?” we’re providing a simple answer.

We began the Do Just 1 Thing campaign by taking a look at simple actions that lie at the intersection of convenience and impact.  We narrowed things down to empower people to take their electricity supply into their own hands.  

There are few things that people feel less control over than their electricity supply.  People get electricity through the grid and have little understanding of who supplies that power and how it’s being generated.  Unless they live in a single-family home, and are willing to pay upfront costs to install solar panels on your home, most people believe they have no power to influence where their power comes from.  While most people aren’t going to go off-grid, several relatively recent trends in the electricity market allow people to influence their own electricity supply and support a transition to renewable energy.  

One common option is to sign up for renewable energy through an electricity supply company in states that have deregulated their electricity market.  This allows people to support wind and solar energy on a monthly basis through their regular utility bill. 

It’s seamless as it often takes just minutes to sign up with just your utility account number and then on a monthly basis your regular utility bill supports renewable energy.  In some cases, this might cost a little bit more each month, but it allows you to turn your utility bill into a force for good.  It means that you’re no longer part of the problem and you become part of the solution.  

While deregulated electricity markets allow you to make this switch directly on your utility bill, the option exists in the rest of the country to sign up for a service where you pay a small amount on top of your regular utility bill to support renewable energy.  The service monitors your electricity usage and then purchases renewable energy certificates from wind farms in proportion to your usage. 

A third very exciting development in the electricity industry is the rise of the community solar model. 

Solar projects across the country allow households from the nearby community to buy into the project by leasing solar panels in proportion to their own household’s electricity usage. 

Then the utility will pay that household for the electricity generated by their solar panels.  In some cases this means that you save money at the same time that you’re supporting the development of a brand new solar farm. 

Through our partners, we have supported the development of rooftop solar farms in Queens and the Bronx.  New York City is a particularly exciting market for community solar as it is a high-ambition, low-ability market for renewable energy;  so many people would love to help transition the country to renewable energy but the fact that so many people live in multifamily apartment buildings or rent means that they have little capacity to actually install solar energy generation at home. 

Our Do Just 1 Thing has partners operating in each of these three areas and connects individuals to what might be right for them wherever they live.  We’ve found that people are ready to act.  We just have to empower them to do so.

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