Does anyone have any experience with Green Mountain Energy?
May 5, 2014 2:36 PM   Subscribe

We were approached at a street fair by a somewhat high-pressure salesman. In its self something of a red flag. However, their rates and espoused business practices were intriguing. On paper (online), they seem like a good choice, especially if I'm interested in green energy. I am aware that they're owned by NRG, but this doesn't put me off on its own.

My pause comes from reading online reviews. They seem to mostly jump in tone between zero-star reviews written by the semi-literate and possible paid shills. Their BBB rating is A+ with what seems to be a large number of complaints, mostly resolved. The internet isn't telling me much that's useful.

I trust AskMetaFilter's opinion to be significantly more nuanced and less spittle-flecked than the general reviewing population, though. Were their rates as advertised? How was their customer service? What was your general experience?

Also, if you're inclined, go ahead and explain to me if they're not actually green because of the whole buying-equal-credits thing.
posted by cmoj to Shopping (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's MLM, if that affects your thoughts about it at all.
posted by radioamy at 2:59 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Stay away from all MLM. If it's a good service it will be offered by a better firm soon enough. If your product is high quality and good, you don't need high pressure salespeople, as a pretty solid rule. Following that rule will help you far more than it causes you to miss out.
posted by jjmoney at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Fine, which is why I turned down the sales guy. Is going to somehow not signing up directly with the provider thereby bypassing the MLM scheme?
posted by cmoj at 3:22 PM on May 5, 2014

BBB is not a reliable indicator of much.

What does tell you when you go to the site? Do you need to sign up for an MLM scheme? If not, and you like their product, perhaps it's worthwhile. Maybe not. What are the costs compared to your current set up? Do those costs change over the life of the service? How easily can you get out of whatever commitment you make to them? How easy would it be to find an alternative service provider if you needed to?


Those are the questions I'd be asking, not what BBB thinks of them.
posted by dfriedman at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Doubtful. You would still need to bring in new salespeople in order to make any major gains.
posted by harrietthespy at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2014

Personally, I've chosen to stick with the regulated provider (ComEd in my case) rather than sign up with another company. Our electric bill is not large, so the potential savings are minor, and I'd rather not have the hassle of switching billing (including auto-debit) and having to monitor the competitor's rates.

You'd need to know whether you are signing up for a contract or a month-to-month deal. If a contract, you are locking in a rate, and you pay a termination fee if you leave them before the end of the term. If you go month-to-month, you pay a variable rate but can switch back any time. It's really a guessing game as to what will work out cheaper in the long run. For example, in Chicago, ComEd is currently 5.523 cents per kWh; Green Mountain Energy is 6.4 cents without a contract and 8.4-9.9 cents with (depending on the term).

Here is some information from Chicagoland, it won't be directly relevant to you, but you'll want to ask yourself most of the same questions. Electricity aggregation and electric competition fact sheet.
posted by payoto at 3:34 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been using them since getting their pitch while walking around New York City. I signed up when the guy was like "hey, we only get commission if you sign up now". I didn't need to do anything bill related, ConEd still handles everything. When I moved, they asked what generation company I wanted, and I re-selected them. Their prices seem reasonable, and the majority of my bill is still transmission, taxes, fixed cost per bill, etc.

I cannot speak to their actual greenness, or level of awesomeness / scumminess as a company. Their wikipedia page makes them seem like a totally normal power generation company.
posted by Phredward at 8:18 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to be one of those obnoxious Green Mountain salespeople out on the streets. Now that those times are (THANK GOD) behind me, I feel comfortable giving you the full story publicly.

The good news: the prices they quote are real. A lot of alternative energy providers lure you in by promising a very low rate that shoots up within a few months after you sign on; that's not Green Mountain's deal. They also don't lock you into a contract for most of their plans, youth you'll want to look carefully to be sure you're signing up for the month-to-month one. A good sales rep should primarily be directing you toward the month to month plans. Those plans are technically speaking variable rate (meaning you're not locked into the price you're initially quoted), but at least here in PA they're still quite stable over time.

As for the green claims; you'll never be able to claim authoritatively that your house gets "green" power unless you have your own solar panels or something. He analogy we were taunt to use is that the power grid is like a bathtub. Water flows into your tub from all over the local watershed, and you'll never know for sure what comes from what river or stream, but you know it all comes from somewhere nearby. Likewise, your local power grid is getting energy from wind farms, from nuclear plants, from coal burning, etc. By signing on for a "green" supplier, you're increasing the share of renewable energy that goes into the grid overall, but your house still gets power from everywhere.

Now that we've cleared that much up...well, the wind farms here in PA are real, at least. The solar panels they installed on the side of the Eagles' stadium are legit. They've poured a lot of money into solar installations for non-profits in Philly, which I can appreciate.

However, as you may have surmised from your interactions, Green Mountain treats their sales reps like utter crap. The pay is commission only, and the good sites with high foot traffic go primarily to folks who are already good at the sales. Everyone else gets to struggle on street corners, trying to flag down people who would really like to pretend that you the annoying rep don't exist. If you don't make any sales on a shift you wind up losing money on your transit. You freeze all winter, stand out in the blazing sun all summer, and can't work at all 9 times out of 10 if it rains.

All this, for an electric rate that you, the customer, could get for lower online.

So the question the becomes; do you support the green energy cause and get a lower rate by signing up online? Do you make a rep's day and ensure they actually get a paycheck by signing up in person? Or do you say "fuck this exploitative commission system" and not sign up at all?

I would be all about that last choice, except as far as I can tell, all energy providers are engaged in one big sleazy race to the bottom. Every sales rep is commissioned in some fashion, no one makes real wages, everyone hard sells. The only way to win is not to play, but barring enough wealth to install your own solar panels, that's not gonna happen.

So, take into consideration that I had Green Mountain co-workers working the equivalent of full-time schedules who struggled to buy food. I knew folks trying to put themselves through college on those inconsistent wages, trying to raise kids. The difference between the online rate and the rate you pay through a rep is noticeable, yes, but maybe not as noticeable as the paycheck hit a rep takes when they don't make sign-ups.

I always talk to the Green Mountain reps I see around now, and wish them luck and tell the I have faith that they'll find something better. Whole days where no one acknowledges your existence are brutal.

Tl;dr- Green stuff and rates are pretty legit, other business practices suck. Your call whether the environmental pros outweigh the business cons.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:15 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

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