Business Health & Environment

Our Not-So-New Choice of How Our Electricity Gets Generated

Friday afternoon, I came home to the building littered with an oversized addressed mailing from Clean Energy Option. The official-looking envelope, complete with perforated edges, instructions for opening, and a NOTICE in bold capital letters, announcing

NOTICE: MASSACHUSETTS RESIDENTS CAN NOW CHOOSE THE SOURCE OF THEIR ELECTRICITY

After peeling open the envelope, I found a “Dear Massachusetts Resident” letter with my name imprinted in the top margin along with a request that I act by 4/30/16.

Curious I kept reading. “If you pay your electric bill” [that idea made me laugh, I then realized they meant, as opposed to electricity being included in your rent or condo fee], you are now able to choose the source of your electricity power supply. If you would prefer your electricity to come from clean, renewable sources like wind and solar, please return the Clean Energy Option form provided.”

As a gal who has been recycling since she was ten-years-old (perilously close to fifty years!) and is very conscious of her carbon footprint, the idea of my now being able to choose to have my electricity generated from clean, renewable sources is very interesting. I kept reading.

“Once your form is received, the source of your electricity will be switched to clean sources with no switch fees or conversion charges.”

As this letter began reading more and more like PublishersClearinghouse or one of those “live forever vitamin sales pitches, my Spidey Senses began twitching. Where’s the catch, I wondered.

You will not be changing your utility company. Billing and service will come from Eversource just as it does now. By choosing renewable you are simply telling Eversource to get the electricity for your home from Clean Energy Option, a supplier of 100% wind and solar power.”

I called the 800- number on the letter hoping to figure out how much more it would cost to have my electricity supplied by renewables. I expected it to be more costly. I just wanted to know by how much.

It took a while, but between the two of us, I finally learned the Clean Energy Option charges would replace the “Generation Charge, Basic Svc Fixed” line item on my Eversource bill. With a little high math, I determined, at the current rate, renewably sourced electricity would cost me $4.51 more per month—not a deal-breaking surcharge. But still, those Spidey Senses…

With some trepidation, I called Eversource. It felt as if I were calling to inquire about a competitor trying to steal their business.

It’s not like that,” the Eversource rep explained. “We no longer generate electricity. Eversource gets electricity from whatever sources our customers choose or from the default we negotiate. We distribute the electricity/get it to your home, maintain the grid, and handle billing for both distribution and generation. This separation is because of the Massachusetts Electric Industry Restructuring Act of 1997.”

So not a newly acquired choice, I thought.

I also learned that contrary to the mailing’s implication it’s either the Eversource “Basic Svc Fixed,” option or this Clean Energy Option, other companies generate electricity. The rep also cautioned me about choosing an energy supplier whose rates “vary on market conditions a month-to-month basis,” an admission I found in the fine print. The Eversource “Basic Svc Fixed” electricity rate can fluctuate every six months.

Calling the Mass. Department of Public Utilities, I learned the legislation didn’t require an Electricity Supplier “Connector” enabling citizens to intelligently select the company they want to generate their electric energy. Sadly, there’s only a Mass. Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs Excel spreadsheet (see it here) identifying those electricity generation companies choosing to be listed, and their websites. Rate-payers are left to painstakingly comb the sites researching individual terms and conditions.

Seriously?

I find this Clean Energy Option mailing littering our neighborhood, and perhaps the whole city, misleading in a number of ways. It insinuates the choice of electricity supply is only newly available. It implies Clean Energy Option is the only alternative to the Eversource “Basic Svc Fixed” default electricity supply option (a presumably not-renewably-source). The mailing suggests the decision is time-sensitive. And of course, the language misleads about the true costs of choosing Clean Energy Option.

I am incredibly disappointed this Weld/Cellucci deregulation/decentralizing measure was not implemented to provide the tools citizens need to advantage any possible benefit, to the customer, separating generation from distribution of electricity might provide.

I’ve had long conversation with the City of Boston Environmental Department, alerting them to this mailing and asking my “data-driven” city government to create this necessary “City of Boston Electricity Supplier Connector” webpage. Surely, I argued, isn’t it in the interest of the “30% less by 2030” goal to help Boston electricity ratepayers navigate their options in choosing how their electricity is generated?

I’ve been promised the idea will be raised up the flagpole. We’ll see if it goes further. Meanwhile, I am sufficiently disquieted by Clean Energy Option to leave my electricity generation with the Eversource “Basic Svc Fixed” default.

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21 Replies to “Our Not-So-New Choice of How Our Electricity Gets Generated

  1. Thank you for comments and information on this Clean energy Option, I am with you leave it alone, nothing is ever in our favor.

    1. Angela, I am confident that if the state legislature had established a “connector”-like resource enabling us to compare & contrast electric energy supply options & intelligently choose. I’m annoyed that the legislature unleashed this energy competition without providing us, the purchasing public, with the necessary tools.

      While this bill was enacted when Sal DiMasi was representing the North End, I need #RepMichlewitz to figure out making those necessary tools available. DPU must require ANY electricity supplier soliciting business from MA residents to provide complete information about their electrical energy generation option.

      We should be able, with the click of a mouse, to determine the cheapest electrical generation, ALL clean, all hybrid (X%clean, Y% dirty), the rates and terms (fixed, fixed Z months, month-to-month fluctuation) I’m sure there are other variables that we need to be clear on in order to make decisions.

      Anyone else have ideas for what search categories the Electric Energy Supplier Connector should include?

      I think this legislation COULD be in our favor. BUT, we apparently have to make it happen. Let’s do it.

  2. Thanks so much for all your legwork. That mailing has been sitting on my coffee table for a week, waiting until I had time to look into it more. It almost went into the trash because it certainly does look like a Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes! It’s annoying that whoever sent this is allowed to be so misleading. I hope everyone tossed it. Also hope that if large numbers of people were fooled, it doesn’t drive the cost up for the rest of us! And definitely hope the City takes your suggestion on a website seriously.

  3. These efforts are a scam, their statements are false, the savings are minimal, if they exist at all, and most importantly, your current provider will likely penalize you for making a choice of generation.
    I have been there!
    John G Hussey

  4. The electricity market in Massachusetts has been deregulated since March 1, 1997. I worked in this business back in its earliest days. The deregulation of the market was never really intended to benefit consumers directly, as they are not profitable for the electricity generators. Big businesses, municipalities, those were all the hot tickets as they have a more attractive load profile. Further, when the legislature in Mass deregulated the market in ’97, it was more of a re-regulation, as there was a mandated “standard offer” which at the time was below what the retail spot market price of power was. It definitely wasn’t fully thought out. I have been choosing my own power supplier since consumers were allowed to, at least 15 years. It’s a constant process because most contracts for consumers are just for a period of 12 months (or less), after which they bump up the rate, sometimes higher than the utility. I bounce around almost every year, looking for the best rate. But it’s worth it because I keep my rate lower, and I can choose a mix of renewable energy. Just as an FYI, if you choose a renewable option, that doesn’t mean that the kilowatt hours YOU use will be renewable. It just means the supplier will put that much renewable into the grid.

  5. I work for the DPU and I wanted to let you know that if you choose to look up what competitive suppliers are available you may go to http://www.mass.gov/dpu/shoppingforsupply. I also wanted to mention that we are in the process of developing a consumer friendly website that would allow a consumer to easily filter and sort competitive supply products. Unfortunately that website is not yet ready so that is why we have the Excel spreadsheet which updates twice per week (we thought that would be more helpful to consumers than no spreadsheet at all).

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Is there an ETA for the consumer-friendly website. Will ALL companies soliciting to supply electricity to MA residential customers be required to supply data to this website? This “Ethical Electric,” DBA Clean Energy Option, is NOT on the Excel spreadsheet.
      Is the site being designed to be a Connector-like site that will enable apples-to-apples comparisons of electricity supply companies? I wish you weren’t “anonymous. I’ve posed to Boston Environmental folks the idea of posting a link to such a DPU site on their pages when it becomes available.

  6. Not surprisingly, I found this email in my INBOX

    I am reaching out because I saw your recent blog about a piece of mail you received from my company, Clean Energy Option The spirit of your blog seemed to be genuinely interested in clean energy so I thought it worth reaching out.

    We’re a 3 year old company whose mission is to provide 100% clean energy as part of our vision of creating a world free of climate change. We just entered the Massachusetts market where we are finding that many, many people have little to no idea about their ability to choose clean energy over the standard fossil fuel energy mix. I’ve attached a picture that shows our wind and solar farms and the region we serve.

    I’ll give you a call today as well on the chance that I might be able to answer some of your questions.

    More than anything, we are interested in getting people access to clean energy so if there is any way I can help, please let me know.

    Best,

    Kate

    We have spoken, and I learned other states do have an Electrical Energy Supply Connector website. She specifically mentioned Pennsylvania, and so I Googled and came up with http://www.papowerswitch.com/shop-for-electricity/ Using a friend in PA’s zip code, I’m only seeing a by-price sort capability, but, the site’s a start. I spoke at length with Kate about her company pushing for an MA Electrical Energy Supply Connector that allowed customers to look at pricing and at supply sourcing (fossil fuels, clean, hybrid (%’s). I asked her to inform MA DPU about other existing state sites, suggesting she evaluate these & offer suggestions for improvement.

  7. The good news is that I contacted the city of Boston Energy & Environment commissioner, Carl Spector asking about the city facilitating a Connector-like resource to help us sort out this electric energy choice-thing and he graciously replied to my inquiry, writing:

    “Thank you for your suggestion. We recognize that the change in the energy market place has made decisions about electricity more complex for many consumers. The City is investigating several options that might simplify this process for many while advancing our greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

    I’m going to stay on top of this matter.

  8. This was extremely helpful to read. Thank you for doing some research on behalf of everyone who got this mailing. Thank you, too, for the useful comments shared by other readers!

  9. I can tell you from first hand experience, this is a scam, avoid it with good conscience, there is no relationship between the scammers and your current supplier, the cost of change, and it is not small, will be borne by you, the customer.
    Be wise and watch your money!
    John G Hussey

  10. Thanks to all for providing the information on “Clean Energy Option”.
    I’ve had the mailing for a few days. I kept reading it and it sounded like a great thing to do.
    Then I found the variable rate information. I read it again, and the whole thing started to sound like it was another “to good to be true” attempt to take my money.
    That’s when I started doing the research. Not always easy to do on the internet these days.
    Anyway, NOT doing it. Again, thanks for doing the research.
    Rick

  11. Thanks for posting all this helpful information.

    As many here, I have been sitting on this for a week, and only now getting into it. My read is that while the connector is a way to go to bring more transparency and information in electricity choice for consumer, it might take some time.

    If you are interested in green energy and believe Climate Change is a real issue, I find Clean Energy Option as probably the best existing option. Yes, there is a price variability, yes, they might be more expensive, but it might be worth trying, and you can switch out at any point. Nobody here is making the claim, and I am grateful this company is providing me with an additional option.

    Andrea

  12. MASSACHUSETTS RESIDENT:
    I received the oversized envelope today, I started reading it and then got to the fine print. Variable with a three month introductory rate guarantee. Length of Agreement 3 months then month-to-month.
    After reading a little more this is a SCAM.
    They wanted my Eversource Account number and action requested by 11/15/16
    I don’t even believe I read the entire form, now heading for the circular file.

  13. I got this mailing too and everything about the letter and their website seemed suspicious.

    This answer on their website says it all:

    Is clean energy more expensive?

    In short, supporting new renewable energy development costs more than delivering polluting energy. For most consumers, the biggest factor determining the size of their bill is the amount of electricity they use.

  14. I receive this solicitation roughly every month. I also received it while living in Washington DC last year – the same company, the same mailing. Interesting to me that an organization ostensibly focused on reducing consumers’ carbon footprints has elected to blanket multiple urban areas with repeated paper mailings… I wonder how much of an impact that’s had on the overall state of the environment. Hopefully the “clean energy” they provide is sufficient to offset the immense waste created by their spam and the associated distribution footprint.

  15. City Councilors Michelle Wu and Matt O’Malley just introduced a Community Choice Energy hearing order. In Michelle’s post talking about the initiative she posted about a program she signed up for last year. It allows you to make a charitable donation based on your energy usage that goes directly to buying clean energy certificates. Her quote is below “– Buy 100% New England Wind to power your home. Learn how this works: https://www.massenergy.org/renewable-energy/whatistheswitch. My family switched over to this in 2016.” This is designed to offset carbon emissions produced by your energy use, not perfect but a good option none the less.

  16. I logged onto my EverSource account and was able to view a very useful grid of all the suppliers. From there, I could select the ones with 100% renewable energy (including CleanChoice) and compare prices. CleanChoice was definitely the most expensive of the ones I looked at. I think I may go with one of the others. With this resource from EverSource, why would it be necessary for the government to duplicate the effort?

    To those of you who complain about the cost – of course, it is natural expect clean energy to be more expensive for now, but in the long run it is better for all of us.

  17. I want to add an option for those interested in supporting renewable energy in MA. I am posting this because of my involvement in climate change issues – I get no profit. For the past couple of years we have had an account with Mass Energy. https://www.massenergy.org/ They are a non-profit that increases locally (New England) generated renewable energy. If you sign up with them, then for all of your electricity use, your supplier (like Eversource) has to purchase renewable energy through them. We have the 100% wind power plan. They have a slight surcharge per kilowatt hour that is tax deductible. The surcharge stays constant and only varies with your use of electricity. The average household pays about $20/month – we use less than the average so typically pay about $10-$15. To me, it is totally worth it to know that my electric use is helping to green the grid. They are also not at all slimy or aggressive. It’s super easy to do and the people there are very nice. Hope this helps someone!

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