State to provide closer regulation of growing green energy niche

Sue McCarthy of Pawcatuck wants to switch to an all-green electricity supplier, but she's still hedging her bets.

"If I could find somebody that was 100 percent green," said McCarthy, "I would probably switch, as long as it was reputable. As long as somebody, somewhere, said, 'Yeah, it's just as good as you've got now.'"

In fact, five of the 12 suppliers who offer contracts as an alternative to the Connecticut Light & Power Company already offer fixed or variable rates that represent 100 percent green energy like wind or hydroelectric power. They are: Viridian, and North American Power, both based in Norwalk; Discount Power of Shelton; MX Energy of Stamford; and Con Edison Solutions of Valhalla, N.Y.

Their rates, even though higher than other alternative suppliers, are competitive with CL&P generation rates. At www.ctenergyinfo.com (see chart), rates range from 9 cents to 11 cents per kilowatt hour, with estimated savings between $1.83 and $10.93 a month, while CL&P's current rate is 11.05 cents per kWh.

(Generation rates are only a portion of the entire CL&P electric bill, which also includes costs for delivery, taxes and fees.)

Documenting 'green' power

Green power holds the promise of avoidance of the creation of greenhouse gases from a reliance on fossil fuels, along with support for investments in so-called "clean" renewable power.

Most of Connecticut's 100 percent green suppliers have entered this particular market as recently as early 2010, however. As a result, the documentation as to what makes them "green," which is required by the state Department of Public Utility Control, will be provided for the first time in 2011, now that the companies have been in the market for a year, said agency spokesman Phil Dukes.

Suppliers have to demonstrate to the DPUC that the energy they sell is based on Class 1, 2, or 3 renewable resources, as defined by statute, Dukes said. Class 1 covers hydroelectric, wind, fuel cell, and other forms of renewable power. Class 2 covers trash-to-energy and biomass supplies. Class 3 represents combined heat and power generators and conservation efforts, he said.

The suppliers have entered the market by buying "recs," or renewable energy credits, or certificates, on the consumer's behalf.

Every time a megawatt hour - the amount of electricity an average house uses in two months - is generated, it creates one rec, said Jeff Swenerton, communications director for the San Francisco-based Center for Resource Solutions. A megawatt hour is equivalent to 1,000 kilowatt hours.

CRS is an independent nonprofit that verifies so-called "Green-E" recs for authenticity.

"If you buy a green-E certified rec, you can rest assured that rec has gone through a rigorous verification process that assures it meets our qualifications for what (are) quality renewables," said Swenerton. "And we track it to make sure the customer is getting it and nobody else is getting it."

Viridian provides green-E certified recs, said Michael Fallquist, founder and chief executive officer. Jeffrey Mayer, president and chief executive officer for MX Energy, said his firm sends the customer a certificate "which represents our pledge to them that their energy is backed by renewables."

Con Edison Solutions sources its energy from wind farms across the country, while Discount Power partners with Sterling Planet, another provider, to provide authentic recs. (North American Power's CEO could not be reached for comment.)

Room for growth

Another option consumers have is to pay anywhere from 60 cents to $1.30 more per kilowatt hour and invest in green energy through the DPUC-approved Connecticut Clean Energy Options program, which features providers Sterling Planet or Community Energy. Details can be found at www.ctcleanenergyoptions.com/options.htm. More than 20,000 customers have chosen this option, said CL&P spokeswoman Katie Blint.

Today, only about 2 percent of utility customers choose green power, Swenerton said. Connecticut suppliers confirmed that, saying 100-percent green contracts range from less than 1 percent to between 5 and 10 percent of all clients.

Nonetheless, suppliers say they see the market as one that will grow over time.

"I think there's a tremendous acceptance and interest in renewables," said Fallquist. "Ninety-eight percent of people roughly want to be green and 2 percent are willing to pay for it, so there is an amazing opportunity to provide that to people by giving them a reduction on their electric bills."

Jon Parrella, president of Discount Power, said providing green energy resonates with a growing number of consumers. "We got into green energy because we believe we need to stop supporting foreign oil," Parrella said. "It definitely has a place in the mix."

As for McCarthy, she said she plans to research the available options cautiously.

"I was unaware that there were choices," she said. "If it's truly generated with renewable resources, I might be interested in jumping ship, but I don't want my electric bill to go through the roof."

How the rates compare*

Green power supplier Charge/cents kWh Est. monthly savings

Viridian 10.079 $1.83

Discount Power 10.066 $2.74

North American Power 10.018 $6.10

MX Energy 9.095 $7.71

Con Edison Solutions 9.049 $10.93

Source: www.CTEnergyInfo.com * Based on 700KWH, the average monthly household usage

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