If you live in southern Maine, you may have received a notice in the mail recently inviting you to sign up for something called Maine Green Power. The mailing indicates that by enrolling, you’ll be supporting renewable energy efforts, such as the Maine Tidal Energy Project. A select number of households in “areas of high interest” were chosen for this mailing, but more missives will soon follow, as the Maine Public Utilities Commission gradually rolls out its optional green energy program for consumers. Jennifer Mitchell explains.
You may or may not have heard, but back in April, the state’s first consumer program to support exclusively Maine-based renewable energy projects, was quietly unveiled.
“People who have enrolled up until this point have mostly done it because, I’d say, it’s probably word of mouth,” says Christine Cook, senior utility analyst with the Maine PUC.
But that will soon change, Cook says, as the program picks up steam with an expanded consumer campaign in the works. Right now, she says, the focus is on environmentally-conscious Mainers who want more control over where their power comes from.
Here’s how it works. Traditionally, you can’t tell whether the electrons responsible for your morning toast are from a wind farm or a coal-fired plant. And you still can’t. Maine Green Power is basically an offset program, where you can purchase a block of energy credits to cover the number of standard-offer kilowatts hours you would normally use for your toast, lights, and so on.
Here’s the offer: for a $7.50 charge that would go on top of your regular electric bill, you can purchase one full “block” of 500 green kilowatt hours. “And 500 kilowatt hours per month is approximately the average usage of a residential consumer in the state,” Cook says.
Consumers can also purchase half blocks. The money spent by consumers ultimately ends up with the green energy generator, with the program cost built into the price of the electricity. In this way, says Cook, the program is self-funded, and it encourages supply as long as there is demand.
So far, says Cook, about 1,000 people have signed up for the program. But since no target numbers were built into the initial plan, it’s hard to say whether the program is on track or not. More will be known when the company releases its first full report, expected early next year.
It’s also not known if Mainers will ultimately be interested in paying bigger bills to support greener power. Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governer’s Energy Office calls the Maine Green Energy ramp up “timely” as the Legislature prepares to renew debate over renewable energy development, delivery – and price tag.
In the meantime, he calls it “an option.”
“It does have a cost associated to it,” he says. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s a voluntary system to enable people with a choice.”
According to the Maine PUC, the Maine Green Power option is unique in that Mainers can purchase their green power exclusively from in-state sources.
Woodcock and the Maine Public Utilities Commission agree that Maine, with its wind, water, and biomass reserves, is in a better position than many of its New England neighbors to expand green energy – but how they’ll go about it is yet to be seen.
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