Should I switch my electricity provider to ConEd SOLUTIONS?
December 21, 2013 5:23 AM   Subscribe

is this ConEd solutions on the level, as providing more eco-friendly electricity than my regular Con Edison provider? What are the pros and cons? The agent who is trying to sell me this says my bill will go up a little. This is for residential usage in New York City. Any experience or information on this is much appreciated.
posted by DMelanogaster to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Electric power is fungible. Once the generator pushes its power onto the trunk it doesn't make any physical sense to ask which customer uses it. (In terms of physics, the only answer is "they all do.")

What they're selling you is good karma. You can voluntarily choose to pay more so that you can feel warm and fuzzy about supporting "green" power.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:08 AM on December 21, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry to sit, but I don't understand what you're saying. If the "good" sources of power are actually better than the "bad" sources, and we all switched from bad to good, wouldn't that make a big difference? Well, we're not all going to switch at once, so, isn't the best solution for us to switch one at a time? Also, if I switch, and tell others that I switched, and the company shows others how many of us have switched, wouldn't that possibly lead to more people switching? (because the "eco-friendly" then becomes the norm, and isn't that what we want?)
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:38 AM on December 21, 2013

I think what Chocolate Pickle meant to say was that the electrons are fungible, but I'd strongly disagree that the sources of generation are. But then, I've been a wind power guy for a couple of decades.

This is basically an offset you're buying. ConEdison buy up a certain amount of clean energy certificates to match the amount their clients buy in clean power from them. These certificates support green energy generators, whose power is more expensive to produce for many reasons. The main one is that these are new generation assets, and the majority of your power would currently likely be coming from old, fully-depreciated assets. Those old plants sure produce cheap power, but leave the external costs (like CO2, SOx, NOx, mercury, particulates, and waste heat) to be paid by all of us.

Increased demand for green power certainly spurs the development of cleaner generation. I've worked on several wind projects that were built to support similar consumer certificate efforts. It's probably not worth paying the higher 2½¢ tariff for the purely wind option, unless you have an aversion to all hydropower. Power prices are very low at the moment.

Check if the supplier is Green-e Certified. That should indicate that it's legit. I only see the ConEd 100% Wind option as certified, but there are other suppliers listed too.

So, in short, this is the easiest way to support green generation. Offsets and certificates have their detractors, but do this if you can afford it and think it's the right thing to do.
posted by scruss at 7:33 AM on December 21, 2013

My current understanding is that this sort of offer associated with Con Edison is a scam. Double check, maybe call Con Edison?

You might search past AskMe's because I'm pretty sure there was a question about trying to get out of one of these ConEd scams in the past 2 years.


There are so many companies out there trying to capitalize on folks like you willing to pay more for "green" products and services that aren't actually green at all.... Be wary from here on out. The reasoning in your update gave me the sads because it was so well-intentioned, but so obviously a sales pitch devoid of nuances and deeper questions.

Short answer: When someone offers you the opportunity to feel better about a consumer product without providing hard demonstrable green differences in their offering, your answer can automatically be, "No thank you," without any fear or guilt.

You're not foolish and I'm glad you asked this question.
posted by jbenben at 8:11 AM on December 21, 2013

Once the generator pushes its power onto the trunk it doesn't make any physical sense to ask which customer uses it.

It does, however, make perfect economic sense. If I'm running a renewable generator and you're buying energy (albeit indirectly) from me, that's not changed at all by the fact that the energy you paid me for uses the same infrastructure to get to your house as the energy your neighbour is buying from my fossil-fuelled competitor.

I pay about 5% extra per kWh for 100% renewably generated electricity. This makes very little difference to what I have available to spend on other things. The more people who do likewise, the less reason we have to keep mining coal.


Scammers abound. If you end up paying a premium to an energy retailer who can't show a paper trail demonstrating that the aggregate amount of energy they supply on those terms is at least as much as the aggregate amount they buy from renewable generators, you're probably being ripped off. Caveat absolutely emptor. Make sure you know exactly who you're dealing with before you sign anything.
posted by flabdablet at 8:33 AM on December 21, 2013

I work for an electric company in Connecticut and despite it being said in the past on AskMe, alternate suppliers are not a scam.

Electric companies, like the one I work for, were deregulated years ago, meaning (simply) that they can distribute/deliver energy, but can not generate/supply it. This was to ensure that local electric companies (who have no competition) had less control over prices. Consequently, electric companies were forced to sell off most or all of their power generating plants. So even if you don't officially use an alternate supplier and, instead, stick with whatever ConEd charges you on the supply portion of your bill, you're still kind of using an alternate supplier anyway since ConEd purchases its energy wholesale from suppliers (I'm assuming there's regulation regarding ConEd purchasing from its separate supply company ConEd Solutions).

Alternate Supplier Tips: Never sign up for an alternate supplier with a variable rate unless you trust yourself to keep track of the new rate each month. Opt instead for a fixed, but make note of when the pricing for the fixed rate you sign up for expires. Most people who think alternate suppliers are a scam are those that signed up for a variable rate or for a fixed rate that was only fixed for a short period of time. There have been reports of shady suppliers, but since their rates and terms have to be clearly spelled out, it's up to the consumer to make sure they're being charged what they signed up for. I find that to be true with most things. Plus due to the heavy regulation of utilities, at least in CT, shady suppliers tend to not last long.

All of that being said, I used ConEdison Solutions as my electric supplier for 100% wind power for a few years. Their green program is, according to all of the accounts I found when doing research before I first made the switch, reputable and regulated. Each year, they also sent me a certificate stating exactly how much wind power was generated on my behalf, which may or may not actually mean anything.

When I used ConEd as my alternate supplier, I was paying about 3 or 4 cents more per kWh than the standard price offered by my electric company. I switched earlier this year to a different supplier of 100% wind energy that costs a bit less (though still more than the standard price) and offers a longer fixed rate option. I do kind of miss that certificate though.
posted by eunoia at 9:47 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Portland General Electric provides a choice. The consumer can opt for power produced in 'greener' fashion and pay a slightly higher price. The option is outlined in an insert sent with the bill. I might be wary of a phoned offer.
posted by Cranberry at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2013

Best answer: Alternate suppliers aren't a scam. Green energy alternate suppliers while not a scam don't generally actually increase the proportion of renewable energy generated. In NYS there is an RPS that you are already paying for through your current bill. Basically that's going to fund almost any viable project.

You are paying ConEd for something it's going to do anyway.

Put another way. The NYS rps that's for 30% of generation to be green by 2015 assumes only 1% of that is from programs like this.

Scam is the wrong word for it. But save your money and spend on decreasing your consumption.
posted by JPD at 4:04 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Scam? No. More expensive? Possibly. Worth it? Depends.

Electricity is fungible because it doesn't travel well, but nevertheless in the name of reliability we hooked everyone up to this big North American grid where it gets sloshed around as needed. In theory you could pay any one of the grid suppliers nearly anywhere to put some in, in your name, equal to what you're taking out, even if you're thousands of miles away. This is especially true in the case of renewable sources -- solar, wind, and even hydro are all somewhat limited in where they can generate.

In fact, when you just buy "from the tap" at any utility, you're already doing this -- they're purchasing their power either from themselves, from a related/affiliate utility, or an alternate supplier, to meet the demand their own customers are pulling out. (Remember Enron? That was what was going on with that, except in the most obscenely exploitative way, with huge amounts being skimmed off the top by arbitrage investors. Fortunately, most states regulate their utilities better, even then, and there is less opportunity for this kind of financier interference.) In fact, some utilities are under state regulations requiring them to buy green-generated power in certain percentages (often with target "X% by Y year" deadlines). By creating this 'alternate supplier' schema, your utility is allowing you, the customer, to make this determination yourself.

The thing about renewable power is that it's, well, frequently variable (especially wind and solar). It's hard to store that power for higher demand periods, and unfortunately, there's often a mismatch. So even the alternate supplier has to go and fill up the grid to meet peak demand somehow, and often that means a less than 100% mix of fully green generation as well as, well, highway robbery power rates during peak demand. Also, there may be a higher build-out investment right now that needs to be paid down.

So, I hope you understand the first two points now. This is the hard one, though -- the worth it part.

By way of analogy, my next vehicle is probably going to be a Prius v. I do this knowing that the car has some drawbacks, and that there are higher up-front investments in hardware. But weaning myself off of petroleum-based transportation will be worth it even if it takes a while for my TCO to catch up. But. One might ask if hybrids are worth it, to the environment, since they're still generally only about 4% of the car market in the US. My answer is that buying a Prius is, to me, a kind of investment -- it isn't just about my car. I'm giving Toyota money so they can sell more hybrids, so more hybrids will be made, and more people will see the benefits, and maybe the costs come down a bit with volume. So there's that. But there's another aspect, and that's that hybrid technology is starting to spread into the mainstream market. Stop-start systems are something that the Prius does -- turning off the engine whenever it isn't needed, like at a light -- that can be installed in a regular gas-engine car, with the right tweaks. So essentially all those people who bought a Prius the last decade have helped underwrite -- almost Kickstarter style -- a technology that now has the potential to dramatically reduce gasoline usage across many more vehicles than just the Prius.

In the same way, the renewables industry needs investment. They need to put up front money into windmills or solar panels or dams (etc., such as geothermal). That capital comes from selling power. If nobody buys their power, they don't have money and can't build more generation capacity. This whole dynamic is dubbed by opponents, in hopes of seeming frightening, Big Wind (etc.). The efforts to get regulatory approval or buy up generation rights from landowners become demonized. I don't know what the big deal is -- often you can sell to the grid as a single independent homeowner with a green building, but to do this national reselling of offsets and so forth takes infrastructure. Anywho, what you are doing as a consumer is choosing to invest in this, more or less, renewable energy startup, putting your money in a Kickstarter, and getting something back that may or may not be "worth" the value of your investment. If you genuinely want to physically sever your ties to nuclear or fossil fuel power, you'll have to cut off your home from the grid. But using an alternate supplier you are getting to choose where your power "comes from" in a financial sense, even if it has very little to do with where it comes from in a physical sense (mostly the nearest power plant, however it generates). You can think of it as an investment in more solar, more wind, and not just building out capacity, but making the technology better and cheaper and more efficient. This has absolutely happened with solar, which has experienced a great expansion (and already a bit of a bust) with companies getting into the business, and now solar cells that are a fraction of the cost of just a few years ago, making initial installation cheaper for individuals and utilities alike. That's good and probably would not have happened without deregulation and alternate supplier laws.

So if your motivation is saving money, well, you might not get it this way (and as JPD says, decreasing consumption -- and otherwise finding ways to conserve energy -- is your best bet, as you can probably achieve huge double-digit decreases, such as by improving your home's insulation). If your motivation is going green, and hopefully saving the planet, so to speak, you may get results that are worth a slightly higher investment. But only you can decide that.
posted by dhartung at 5:49 PM on December 22, 2013

this isn't actually correct. taking a "renewables tariff" doesn't increase investment in renewables - especially in NYS where a state agency basically runs the investments related to the RPS. The power is going to get bought no matter what and that funds the investments. If you want more renewables write a check to a politician or donate your time to a group pushing for a higher RPS sooner rather than later.
posted by JPD at 6:42 AM on December 27, 2013

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