Renewable energy – powering a safer future
Energy is at the heart of the climate challenge – and key to the solution.
A large chunk of the greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth and trap the sun’s heat are generated through energy production, by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat.
Fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.
The science is clear: to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, emissions need to be reduced by almost half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.
To achieve this, we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and invest in alternative sources of energy that are clean, accessible, affordable, sustainable, and reliable.
Renewable energy sources – which are available in abundance all around us, provided by the sun, wind, water, waste, and heat from the Earth – are replenished by nature and emit little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air.
Fossil fuels still account for more than 80 percent of global energy production, but cleaner sources of energy are gaining ground. About 29 percent of electricity currently comes from renewable sources.
Here are five reasons why accelerating the transition to clean energy is the pathway to a healthy, livable planet today and for generations to come.
Renewable energy sources are all around us
About 80 percent of the global population lives in countries that are net-importers of fossil fuels.- that’s about 6 billion people who are dependent on fossil fuels from other countries, which makes them vulnerable to geopolitical shocks and crises.
In contrast, renewable energy sources are available in all countries, and their potential is yet to be fully harnessed. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 90 percent of the world’s electricity can and should come from renewable energy by 2050.
Renewables offer a way out of import dependency, allowing countries to diversify their economies and protect them from the unpredictable price swings of fossil fuels, while driving inclusive economic growth, new jobs, and poverty alleviation.
Renewable energy is cheaper
Renewable energy actually is the cheapest power option in most parts of the world today. for renewable energy technologies are dropping rapidly. The cost of electricity from solar power fell by 85 percent between 2010 and 2020. Costs of onshore and offshore wind energy fell by 56 percent and 48 percent respectively.
Falling make renewable energy more attractive all around – including to low- and middle-income countries, where most of the additional demand for new electricity will come from. With falling costs, there is a real opportunity for much of the new power supply over the coming years to be provided by low-carbon sources.
Cheap electricity from renewable sources could provide 65 percent of the world’s total electricity supply by 2030. It could decarbonize 90 percent of the power sector by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change.
Although solar and wind power costs are expected to remain higher in 2022 and 2023 then pre-pandemic levels due to general elevated commodity and freight prices, their competitiveness actually improves due to much sharper increases in gas and coal prices, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Massachusetts residents’ rights to opt-in to alternative electricity suppliers that provide renewable energy may be stripped away in the newly introduced S.2842, a climate change focused bill. Proponents of this provision in the bill say that it will reduce predatory contracts, but opponents say it eliminates their personal choice, and hands monopoly control back to utilities like Eversource and National Grid.
In 2021, nearly half a million Massachusetts households shopped for electric suppliers other than their default utility company. The new bill proposes language that would close this market and ban competition in the state’s energy market.
This month, a petition signed by over 1,000 Massachusetts residents expressed that the bill would take away personal choice, reduce competition and innovation, and reduce renewable energy development and support.
Currently, three-quarters of the products offered in the program are 100% renewable energy contracts. Massachusetts law currently only mandates utilities to supply 51% renewable energy, meaning the bill could stand in the way of clean energy goals for the state.
“I have used alternative electricity sources under this program for 4 years. Pricing and service have always been quite competitive. Why would the Legislature want to end such a successful program and return Massachusetts to the age of monopolistic energy supply?” said David B. of Dover, Mass.
“Not only should we get to shop suppliers, but also delivery as we pay more for delivery than supply. Current rate I am paying is
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.06/kWh less than Eversource would charge. That would add 25-35% more per month to an already high electric bill,” said Ethan E, East Sandwich, Mass.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been expressing concern about the energy choice program since her office launched an investigation into reports of deceptive contract practices. The report found that from July 2015 to June 2018, net losses for Massachusetts customers totaled 253 million.
In some cases, customers intentionally pay more to ensure they are supporting a 100% renewable energy supply, but in others, promises of savings were not met, and complex, predatory contracts were signed. Healy’s report said that low-income households and communities of color are disproportionately affected by higher bills under the program. In 2017 to 2018, low-income households lost an average of 166 over the course of the year.
“I’ve used 100% clean energy for years, and, since it’s totally optional for customers, I don’t understand why you would shut off this important option to consumers. If there are issues with some energy providers being bad actors, it’s best to regulate or deal with them and not totally close down the options to choose clean energy,” said James F. in Waltham, Mass.
“For those of us who are committed to buying 100% renewable energy, closing the market would be a HUGE step backwards for Massachusetts,” said Daniel J. of Beverly, Mass.
An online survey of 800 Massachusetts residents conducted on behalf of Clean Choice Energy found that residents overwhelmingly support the option to choose alternative suppliers. The survey found 83% of respondents want the freedom to choose clean energy for their homes, 79% want to be able to choose their supplier, and 73% would be interested in 100% clean energy contracts if given the option. Alternative energy suppliers are more popular than rooftop solar, with 74% of respondents voicing interest in the option, versus 50% of respondents saying they are interested in rooftop residential solar.
“Nearly 500,000 Massachusetts households already voted with their wallets, and most are accelerating the purchase of renewable energy – an option that Senate Bill 2842 (S. 2842) would take away,” said Christopher Ercoli, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Energy Advancement League. “When retail energy suppliers compete for your business, they have the incentive to offer better rates and service – not treat you like a captive ratepayer who pays whatever the utility mandates.”
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What is community solar?
Community solar is, at the simplest level, any set of solar panels that offers up the power it generates to more than one person in the area.
The goal of community solar projects is to provide clean energy to homes that are currently ineligible for solar. To encourage them, 22 states have passed legislation that allows community solar projects to sell power to the grid at fair rates, and create easier billing for customers. Even without that help, community solar projects exist in 19 other states.
Subscribers of community solar pay into the project, either upfront or monthly, helping pay for its maintenance and other costs and balancing out its revenue across high and low generation months. In return, subscribers get a discount on their electric bill and help reduce carbon emissions on the power grid.
Community solar has grown 120 percent every year since 2010; it’s now in 39 states and the District of Columbia. The latest figures from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) show 5.2 gigawatts of community solar available, enough for about 600,000 households. But there are 120 million powered homes in the U.S., and up to 85 percent of them may be unable to install solar panels, whether due to renting, roof conditions, or simply financing. So there’s still a big need for more community solar, and in more places.
How does community solar work?
It might sound like community solar sends power from a solar array straight to your home. While it would be neat to see a separate cable labeled “Clean Energy” plugged into your breaker box, that’s not how it works.
Put simply, and breezing past a bunch of variables and regulations, here’s what happens in an ideal setup:
- Solar energy is collected by a community project
- That energy is fed back to a utility company’s grid
- You, a subscriber, have your utility account credited for the amount generated for your share
- You either get a consolidated bill with a discount or, having paid upfront, get your credits separately
In a larger sense, community solar “works” because solar power, even when built with new equipment, is cheaper than generating power with fossil fuels. You get a discount because the economics of solar are so good.
For customers, especially in states with encouraging laws, it’s an easy way to save, usually a guaranteed amount, on electric costs. It also cleans up your power mix.
Where are community solar projects built?
Community solar projects are showing up in more places than you’d assume. Searching the news recently, I found community solar panels installed on vacant airport land in Florida. a capped landfill near Niagara Falls, and the roof of a FedEx facility in Washington, D.C. Many towns, businesses, and other landowners are looking at large, flat spaces and wondering if they might be better used generating power–and revenue.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory counted more than 2,000 community solar projects in December 2021. The largest share of community solar power collection, by far, comes from Florida, with Minnesota, New York, and Massachusetts each producing about half of what the Sunshine State sends out.
How can I sign up for community solar?
The easiest path to community solar is getting a zero upfront cost solar subscription with a single, consolidated bill. Our favorite community solar provider is Arcadia.
While researching this guide, I signed up through Arcadia’s platform for a community solar subscription in Washington, D.C. (a place with solar-enabling legislation). I provided my address and utility provider, reviewed the terms (no contracts or cancellation fees, guaranteed savings), and authorized Arcadia to handle billing through my utility. I was on a waitlist for a couple weeks, but then got my spot on a nearby (Virginia) farm.
When my next month’s electric bill is due, Arcadia will handle the back-and-forth crediting between Pepco, the farm, and my share of it, then give me a 10% discount.
It’s not the kind of “meter running backwards” excitement that rooftop solar owners (occasionally) enjoy, but it still creates real carbon reductions and bill savings. No one gigantic home is using up all the power, and I get a financial incentive in even the grayest of months. And by signing up and participating, I am, hopefully, spurring further development in community solar.
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Community Solar Benefit
Please note that as of July 1, 2023, all spots have been filled and the program is not accepting new enrollments.
From August 2022. June 2023, UMB partnered with WeSolar to offer community solar benefits to UMB staff and faculty who receive electricity from BGE. This benefit was a guaranteed 10% discount on the base rate for the electricity portion of staff and faculty’s BGE bills.
Checkerspot Solar Farm in Tracy’s Landing (Anne Arundel County, Maryland)
Frequently Asked Questions
The U.S. Department of Energy defines community solar as any solar project or purchasing program, within a geographic area, in which the benefits of a solar project flow to multiple customers such as individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and other groups. Community solar can be a great option for people who are unable to install solar panels on their roofs because they don’t own their homes, have insufficient solar resources or roof conditions to support a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system due to shading, roof size, or other factors, or for financial/other reasons. Read more about community solar here.
A community solar farm is a farm of solar panels owned and operated by a solar developer. For the UMB employee benefit, this developer is CleanChoice Energy. The energy that is generated by this farm flows to the Smart grid and becomes part of the overall energy supply. In our case, the solar energy becomes part of the energy delivered by BGE to homes and businesses in the area.
For community solar, the electricity generated at a big solar farm is fed directly into the local electricity grid. For third-party supplier contracts, the vendor purchases renewable energy certificates (RECs) on your behalf to re-define the electricity as “renewable.” RECs can come from various fuel sources, including trash incinerators and burning wood. Third-party supplier contracts through the Customer Choice program often utilize fluctuating rates, where a customer may get a better rate than the BGE base price initially, but the rate goes up over time throughout the term of the contract, ultimately making it a more expensive option than the BGE rate (also known as an escalator). Your community solar benefit will always be 10% off the current BGE rate for the length of the contract term; there are no escalators. Read more about the differences between these two programs here.
Community solar is a pilot program that is run by the State of Maryland and the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), the entity that regulates public utilities. Through this program, the PSC reviews and accepts applications for “subscriber organizations” such as Neighborhood Sun and ensures the regulations that passed regarding community solar are followed. These regulations include consumer protections.
The benefit is a guaranteed 10% discount on the base rate for the electricity portion of your BGE bill. Please note that if you receive both electricity and gas services through BGE, this benefit is only for the electricity portion. This benefit lasts for 20 years.
Additionally, if you signed up on or before August 15, 2022, you should have received a 50 Visa gift card from Utility Advisor. Please see below for an example of what the email notification with the gift card code looks like.
Regular full- or part-time (50 percent FTE or more) faculty or staff employees and postdoctoral researchers of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) who live within the BGE service area are eligible.
This benefit is not available to the following parties:
- Part-time employees with less than 50 percent FTE
- Contractual employees
- Employees who are not in good standing
- University of Maryland Medical Center employees
- UMB undergraduate and graduate students
This community solar benefit is available to both homeowners and renters. There is no minimum credit score requirement to participate.
UMB employees will be assigned shares of various solar farms throughout the BGE service area, including:
- In Anne Arundel County
- Checkerspot. 5963 Franklin Gibson Rd, Tracys Landing, MD 20779
- Patuxent. 4913 Sands Rd, Lothian, MD 20711
- Bathian. 605 Bayard Rd, Lothian, MD 20711
- Sassafras. 632 Freeland Rd, Freeland, MD 21053
- Trillium. 1139 Monkton Rd, Monkton, MD 21111
A community solar subscription does not require a change in electricity suppliers. Your electricity will still be delivered to your residence by BGE. Solar credits are applied to your utility bill without any interruption of service.
Yes, participants will receive two monthly bills – one from Neighborhood Sun and one from BGE. The Neighborhood Sun bill is based on the amount of energy your share of the solar farm produced that month. On your BGE bill, you will see these solar credits from Neighborhood Sun applied, reducing your utility charges.
Your subscription will always be 10% less than the value of the bill credits you receive. Bill credits are applicable to the entire BGE bill including: delivery, generation, transmission, applicable taxes, and other fees. The value of these bill credits may increase or decrease over the term of the agreement which also affects the subscription price. As of July 13, 2022, the subscription price is 10.79 cents/kWh, compared to BGE’s estimated price of 11.99 cents/kWh. This equals an 10% savings of 1.2 cents/kWh.