Having set the bar low for adoption of its new Green Choice renewable energy program, it now appears that the Belmont Municipal Light Department is in danger of tripping over it. According to BMLD CEO Tim Richardson, just 87 customers have signed up for the voluntary green energy program — less than 1% of BMLD’s 9,600 customers, and short of BMLD’s already modest goal of signing up 100 customers for the program. Total renewable energy purchases for the town, so far, in 2008 have been around 100 MWHr (Megawatt Hours) of green energy.
Green Choice (brochure and sign up form are here) was first introduced in May by the BMLD, in response to community calls for more renewable options in its energy portfolio. The program allows BMLD residential and business customers to buy renewable energy certificates (RECs) representing proof that 1 megawatt-hour (equivalent to 1,000 kilowatt-hours) of electricity was generated from renewable energy resources including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. This being the electrical grid, you can’t know for sure that the megawatt you consume came from a green source, but the idea is that as more consumers queue up for RECs, energy providers are forced to go in search of them. That, in turn, creates demand for the green energy facilities that generate RECs (along with green power).
Under Belmont’s Green Choice program, you can purchase 100 kilowatt-hours’ worth of green power for $6. There’s no cap on the number of RECs you can buy (BMLD notes that the average household uses around 800 kilowatt-hours of electricity each month). It’s also worth noting that the $6 is in addition to the base BMLD rate per kilowatt hour.
So what’s behind the slow adoption — is it a failure on the part of BMLD to promote a well intentioned and forward looking program. Or is this simply economics: why should customers pay more for something when its not clear what (if anything) they’re getting in return besides a clear conscience? What’s clear is that the BMLD is falling down on what, to date, has been its flagship effort to spark more use of renewable energy sources and put the town on a greener path. Environmentalists in town, who backed the idea of Green Choice were already skeptical of BMLD’s goal of signing up just 1% of customers, saying that it showed a lack of heart in really promoting the program. Now, as the Department falls short even of that, some are saying that much more needs to be done to promote conservation and clean energy sources within town.