Plugging Into Community
by Justin Klugh
Shopping for anything when you have too many choices can mean not making a choice at all. That's one thing when you're roaming the grocery store. But when it comes to energy for our homes, many of us are not yet used to having a choice, much less understanding what they are. And while many Americans can now choose renewable or locally produced energy, Philadelphians can also buy through a cooperative business.
“It is difficult,” says Eric Kravitz of the Energy Co-op, an independently-owned nonprofit energy supplier operating in Philadelphia, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties. “We’re so accustomed to using PECO or an existing provider without thinking about alternative ways to change, just because the nuts and bolts can be very confusing.”
But the Energy Co-op looks to simplify things for current and potential customers. “That’s another benefit to our members,” Kravitz says, “the educational outreach. We have a lot of information given to our members to help them make an informed decision about their energy choices.”
The Energy Co-op supplies Bioheat, a renewable alternative to heating oil that combines it with unadulterated biodiesel for a cleaner product, as well as PA-produced electricity via wind turbines and solar panels. Started in 1979 in West Mt. Airy, by the ’90s, they were the only company to offer renewable forms of energy in Southeastern PA. Since then, they have pushed to innovate the industry, being praised for developing a form of biodiesel from waste grease, supplying school districts with biodiesel for their buses, and working to lower the state’s dependency on fossil fuels.
In the future, the Energy Co-op hopes to expand in all directions, touting a Renewable Natural Gas program (RNG) that Kravitz says is the “first of its kind” in the United States. Through RNG, customers’ consumption of natural gas is equalized by methane pulled out of local landfills. The methane is channeled from the ground into regional businesses, where it provides locally sourced energy for the community. This subtracts from the area’s dependence on national vendors, and therefore limits the spending of funds outside of Southeastern PA. Ideally, it also inspires change by reshaping how people go about energy consumption nationally.
With their members as the primary focus, Kravitz boasts how much more comfortable customers can feel with an energy company that’s actually responsive. “I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to call PECO or any of the other large companies, but,” he says, “it’s hard just to find someone to talk to.”
“We are member-owned,” Kravitz explains. “Any kind of profit we generate is distributed back to our members. It’s different from every other large corporation that provides electricity, where the profits are sent out of state or to shareholders. It gives us a strong connection with the users and the community.”