As we drive down the Shoreway toward downtown Cleveland one morning, my son looks up at a giant white tower and goes, “What’s that?”
“It’s a windmill,” I reply.
“What’s a windmill?”
“Well, the wind blows those giant blades, and they swirl around and around and around, and it makes power. You know, power that makes our lights turn on and our refrigerator stay cold.”
“Do we have a windmill at our house?”
Hm. Not really, no, but . . . there is a way to use wind power in your home, right?
Turns out, yes!
We’re almost a year deep in our wind-power experiment right now, and here’s what I’ve learned.
If you want to use wind or solar power to generate the electricity in your home, it isn’t quite as simple as hooking up a windmill in your backyard, but essentially you can “put your money where your mouth is” and speak to the power company that way.
The raw materials going into our energy grid all go in one big lump — including solar power, wind power, nuclear power, and fossil fuels (oil, gas, natural, gas, coal, etc.). You can’t separate it out; this whole giant mix is what powers your home right now. But you can choose to buy into a solar or wind power plan, which directs a portion of your monthly bill toward “investing” in companies that exclusively harvest wind and solar energy; or, paying them a subsidy.
These companies sell “Renewable Energy Certificates” — each certificate is proof that 1 megawatt hour of that company’s electricity was generated from a “green” source and fed into the electric grid. So you can track exactly where that renewable power is coming from.
For a small premium — say, to the tune of about 6 cents per kilowatt hour — you can call yourself an investor in our nation’s clean energy market.
Does it mean you are “off the grid” and living solely on wind power? No, not even close. But the idea is to speak with your pocketbook and support companies that are producing green power, and let the forces of supply and demand do the rest.
So how does it affect your family’s bottom line? Pretty negligibly, at least in our experience. I expected a slight bump in our monthly bills, but as it happens, we’d also been making a conscious effort to keep our lights shut off when we weren’t using them, turn up (or down, depending on the season) our thermostat a couple of degrees, switch to LED bulbs, and be mindful about how much electricity we were using. As a result, our electric bills actually plummeted, and the extra wind power fees didn’t affect us at all!
OK, time for some boring math. We have a two-story, 3-bedroom home with no basement. For comparison’s sake, in December 2018, we used 701 kilowatt hours of power ($97.44). In December 2019, we plunged to 283 ($40.97). And the average daily temperatures weren’t that far off: 35 degrees in 2018 and 38 degrees in 2019. Our peak usage was 551 kilowatt hours in August 2019, when the A/C was running nonstop.
A quick Google search shows that the average American home uses 909 kilowatt hours per month, so you’ll have to check your own family’s bill and see where you fit into the mix. Our 283 kilowatt hours in December cost us about 17 bucks in renewable energy fees. But since our costs were so low anyway compared to the year before, we didn’t bat an eye.
The key seems to be limiting your electric use to begin with, and watching your bills erode. Then, if you’re in the mood to join the “demand side” for more renewable energy, tack on a renewable power plan with your savings!
Interested? With a little research, it’s easy to find a green energy plan that could work for you. Your main power provider (e.g., The Illuminating Company) will remain the same and they will still generate all of your bills. All you have to do is find a green energy plan to add on.
I recommend starting with the website green-e.org/certified-resources — this will give you a comprehensive list of green energy providers (or Green-e certified companies; Green-e is a non-profit program based in San Francisco). Search for your state or area and a list of green energy providers will pop up. Then check out a few of their websites.
Most should have a home electric or gas plan that you can add on to your monthly bill. Many should also have a contractual period, usually about two years; but you can lock in the price, so that’s a nice feature. Definitely shop around for the lowest rate. Variable plans are available, too, but are a bit riskier.
Once you sign up, you’re set! Within a month or so, you should see a separate line item for your renewable energy fees on your power bill. I recommend keeping copies of your bills for a year or more, so that you can track the fees and how you are trending.
Now every time we pass that windmill on the Shoreway, I can tell my son, “No, we don’t have a windmill at our house . . . but that windmill does help turn our refrigerator light on.”