"Buy local” has long been the rallying cry of the food movement. Now the renewable energy movement has adopted the slogan to encourage residents and businesses to buy their electricity from in-state sources. And with good reason—the wind industry alone has a big impact on Pennsylvania’s economy. In 2010, it directly and indirectly supported 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, and wind project owners pay $1.3 billion in annual property taxes and more than $2.2 million in land lease payments.
Switching electricity suppliers can seem like a daunting task. Especially since not all choices are created equal. There are 12 different companies offering renewable energy in the region, but their energy sources can be vastly different. Your energy purchase could support a wind farm near Scranton or a solar farm in Texas. But the good news is there are two major players in the region: Community Energy and The Energy Cooperative—both offer 100 percent, locally-sourced renewable energy.
Since 1999, Community Energy has been developing wind energy projects in Pennsylvania. At the time, only 10 megawatts (MW) of wind energy capacity existed east of the Mississippi River. By 2006, Community Energy was the exclusive marketer of 200 MW of wind to the region. They built the Bear Creek Wind Farm near Scranton, as well as the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm in Atlantic City. Residents can purchase their renewable energy through 20 different utility companies in the Northeast, including PECO. In Pennsylvania, they partner with Verde Energy to provide a product comprised of 99 percent Pennsylvania wind and one percent Pennsylvania solar.
The solar component comes from a 6 MW solar installation near Lancaster—the largest solar farm in Pennsylvania. Community Energy will lease farmers’ land for 25 years, providing revenue to the farmers and, when the lease is up, they’ll remove the panels so the farmers can return to farming the land. They see it as a way to expand renewables and “support farm families as generations age,” says Jay Carlis, vice president of Community Energy’s retail division.
Like Community Energy, the Energy Cooperative provides local energy comprised of 99 percent Pennsylvania wind and one percent Pennsylvania solar. But there are a few differences. The Energy Co-op requires membership ($15 for residents) to purchase energy directly from them, not through a partnering utility company. They also don’t develop any wind or solar farms themselves. Their wind energy comes exclusively from the Highland Wind Farm in Cambria County, and the solar is supplied from a very local source—the rooftops of Co-op members. Last year, the Energy Co-op sourced their energy from a portfolio of wind, solar, low-impact hydroelectric and an anaerobic digester, but a survey of members revealed overwhelming support for wind and solar. As a result, the Energy Co-op changed their EcoChoice100 energy product to reflect members’ preferences.
This change slightly increased their price per kilowatt-hour at the beginning of the year, but Alex Fuller-Young, the Energy Co-op’s electricity program manager, explains that the higher prices haven’t really affected their membership levels. “That’s a testament to how connected people feel to our organization,” he says. “We’re not your standard energy supplier.”
Purchasing local, renewable energy is one of the best ways you can support the growth of clean energy in Pennyslvania. As Carlis points out, “If you want more clean energy, sure you can vote for people who support renewables, but the best thing you can do is buy it yourself.”
Samantha Wittchen is partner and co-founder of iSpring (ispringassociates.com), a sustainability firm
serving companies and organizations in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys.
COMMUNITY ENERGY (communityenergyinc.com/pawind)
Location: Radnor, PA
Renewable Energy Composition: 99% PA wind, 1% PA Solar; Provided through partner company Verde Energy
Membership Fee: None
Price Plan: Variable (price can fluctuate); No cancellation fees; No contract
Extra: $50 cash back bonus
THE ENERGY CO-OP (theenergy.coop)
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Renewable Energy Composition: 99% PA wind, 1% PA Solar; Provided directly from The Energy Co-Op
Membership Fee: $15 per year
Price Per KWH: 10.25 cents
Price Plan: Fixed annually; No cancellation fees; No contract