One Thing You Can Do: Switch to a Green Energy Provider
Welcome to the Climate Fwd: newsletter.
September is turning out to be busy here at Team Climate. On Friday, we’re expecting protests and strikes worldwide to protest climate change. They’re timed to a week of climate events run in coordination with the United Nations. Then, on Saturday, youth delegates will convene in New York for a climate summit, and world leaders are scheduled to gather to discuss global warming on Monday. Those events will very likely draw protests and demonstrations, too.
All that comes after an, umm, lively start to the month. We’ve had no shortage of news, like the political storm over a presidential hurricane forecast. Then, there was the administration’s plan to relax energy efficiency rules for light bulbs and its effort to revoke California’s authority to set its own emissions standards. The president has been tweeting about that.
We’re keeping an eye on it all, so stand by. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already signed up for the newsletter, you can do it here. And, read on!
By now, you’ve probably seen ads for green energy companies. But how do you know if signing up will really reduce your carbon footprint?
The short answer: It will, but probably not the way you think.
That’s because companies generally cannot send renewable energy directly to your home. Once electricity is in the grid, suppliers cannot distinguish the power produced by solar and wind farms from the power produced by fossil fuels, hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants.
To get around this problem, power companies came up with renewable energy certificates. Each certificate represents a given amount of electricity that’s been generated from renewable sources. When energy companies produce that power, they get certificates they can sell to consumers.
So, when you sign up for green energy, you’re really buying those renewable energy certificates.
“Short of having a solar array on your roof and keeping all those electrons to yourself, it’d be really hard to figure out what type of electrons you’re using if you didn’t have something like R.E.C.s to keep track of the math,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
If you live in a state with a deregulated energy system (most Northeastern states, California, Oregon and Texas) you can sign a supply deal with a renewable energy company. If you do, your provider will probably never mention the certificates behind the system. But, wherever the electrons really came from, all the energy you use will represent green power generation.
Those supply deals generally cost a bit more than a traditional utility bill. Prices vary, but the average household should expect to pay a few dollars more each month.
If you live in a state with a regulated energy system, you won’t be able to choose your electricity provider. In that case you can still buy renewable energy certificates online to help encourage green power, but that would be separate from your utility service and bill.
Either way, the World Resources Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Union of Concerned Scientists have said that certificates are a legitimate way to foster the growth of the renewable energy industry.
Mr. Rogers, the energy analyst, called them “totally legit.”
Another thing you should keep in mind is that the market for certificates is unregulated. That means the government is not keeping an eye on producers to ensure that they deliver what they promise. There is an independent watchdog for green energy projects, though: Green-e.
Green-e does two important things: It verifies that the energy concerned actually does come from renewable sources, and it makes sure that the certificates are not double-counted. The E.P.A. recommends that consumers buy from companies with a Green-e certificate.
So, do your homework. And you can help encourage the transition to green energy.
Two ways to spread the climate message
Climate week is on its way, and you can expect to hear about a lot of protests, including the global student climate strike planned for Friday. Here at The Times, we’re no strangers to protests, including the semiregular demonstrations around our building by Extinction Rebellion. The group is demanding quicker and more vigorous action on climate change, using protest and civil disobedience to spread its message.
That’s how I first met Richard McLachlan; he was part of a protest back in the spring that involved student protesters and Extinction Rebellion.
When I saw that first demonstration from my office window — it was in May, and related to the youth climate strike in Times Square — I walked downstairs. In a world where people scream at each other anonymously on social media, I look for face-to-face conversation.
I asked several people, including Richard, why they were protesting at The Times. After all, we’ve got a team of about a dozen people whose whole job is covering climate change, and The Times covers the topic more thoroughly than just about any other publication. We ended up having a good conversation about what my colleagues and I do at the NYT.
Since then, Extinction Rebellion has returned to The Times on a number of occasions, including a shutdown of the street in front of our building in June that got some 70 people arrested.
One of the people who seems to always show up is Richard, a genial man from New Zealand who now lives in Brooklyn. Richard and I decided to get coffee together. He came to The Times one day in July. I got him through security — the guards recognized him and were a little surprised to see me ushering him in. We went up to the 14th-floor lunchroom.
We talked about our grandchildren, and how we both worry about what the future will be for them. “It’s giving me bad dreams,” he told me.
One of his grandsons, he said, heard about the protesters getting arrested and that Richard was one of them. The boy said of his grandfather, “I’m a little bit proud of him.”
Richard added, “I have to be able to look this kid in the eye in 10 years’ time.”
He’s excited about a recent venture: speaking out on New York City subways about climate change and the need for action. You might think that New Yorkers would hate the intrusion into their day and their commute. It’s a tough crowd, right?
But Richard told me that the response has been overwhelmingly positive; he even gets occasional applause. It helps that he’s not asking for money, just giving out fliers. And he gives them out by the hundreds. It’s his sincerity, it seems to me, that makes the subway soapbox moments work. “A homeless guy called me ‘the new Noah’ today,” he said with a laugh.
We don’t agree on everything. He wants The Times to adopt the prescriptive language of activists and use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency.” “I really believe that the urgency is not coming through,” Richard said.
“At the moment, it feels that climate — it’s not even an emergency, man, it’s a catastrophe! — is one story among many” in Times coverage, he said.
I explained that we try to let the strength of our reporting underscore the urgency without using the language of advocacy, and that many of our readers are more persuaded by a sober statement of facts than an impassioned one. I said that I believe the reporting and prominent play The Times provides get that sense of urgency across. At the same time, I added, the longstanding view of the Times’s editorial board is that climate change is a global crisis and requires intense and quick action.
I don’t think I persuaded Richard. But we plan to keep talking. We both try to get the word out about climate change in our own way.
From the mailbag
Hello again! One reader wrote to ask whether last week’s One Thing item on a tax break for solar energy was an advertisement or an editorial. It was neither. The Times has a strict policy of keeping news separate from advertising and opinion, and Climate Fwd: is news. Hopefully, it’s news you can use. That’s the point of the One Thing column: to share ideas about how you can make a difference. Have a great week!