Going Solar Not An Option? Other Pathways to Renewable Energy Abound!

Note: This blog post comes from the Better Business Challenge presentation, “Other Pathways to Renewable Energy in Charlottesville,” given by Lena Lewis on September 26, 2018. (Read our introduction to the benefits of renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets, then read Part II of this blog series on other sources for purchasing RECs and carbon offsets.)

Whether it’s your financial situation (you don’t own, you rent), your facilities’ or homes’ location, or you just don’t have the cash flow or capital to invest in solar panels right now, “going solar” might not be an option for you.    

But the story doesn’t have to end there.  Purchasing renewable energy and carbon offsets is a viable solution – and its much cheaper than you think!  

RECs 101: Can You Get Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources?   

Technically, you can’t. When electricity is produced, it’s put onto the electric grid, where it mixes with all the other electricity from other sources. The electricity you access in your building’s electric sockets comes from a mix of energy sources located in many states.  

But you can purchase renewable energy through “Renewable Energy Certificates” or RECs (pronounced “wrecks”) so that you can take credit for renewable energy that was put onto the grid on your behalf. A REC is a unit of measurement by which renewable energy is measured and sold.

How Do I Know It’s Legit?  

When you purchase a REC, you are purchasing the right to claim that one megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable energy was generated for you, and you get credit for all of the associated environmental benefits. (One MWh is equivalent to 1000 kilowatt hours, a little more than the amount of electricity consumed by the average American home in one month).  

RECs have a third-party verification system to ensure the REC sold to you is not also sold to someone else. All of the options outlined here are verified by a third-party auditor, earning the status of Green-e certified.  

Third-party verification makes sure that your REC is unique, tells you when and where it was produced, and that when you buy it, it is retired on your behalf and not sold again. It will also tell you what kind of energy you bought – solar, wind, biomass, etc.  

Option 1: Dominion Energy Green Power Program  

You can buy RECs through Dominion Energy’s Green Power Program. It has no upfront cost, and no long-term commitment. You just sign up on their website. (Note: C3 receives no money from Dominion Energy, and Dominion earns no profit on the Green Power Program.)  

Buying RECs from Dominion allows you to say you are running on renewable energy.  

Dominion Energy’s Green Power Program gives you the option to purchase renewable energy in small blocks, or to match 100 percent of your energy consumption.  

One REC costs $13, which would cover the average home’s electricity consumption for one month.  

Here’s a pie chart of Dominion’s Energy Portfolio for its regular customers. Over half is from carbon-emitting fossil fuels, and another third is from non-renewable nuclear.  


Source: Dominion Energy: Making Energy  

Let’s compare that to the Energy Portfolio if you buy enough RECs from Dominion Energy’s Green Power Program to cover 100 percent of your energy consumption: 


Source: 2017 Historical Product Content Label  

As you can see, your environmental impact is much improved if you support renewable energy through this program. However, notice that a big portion of this pie is “biomass.” Biomass is anything organic, ranging from trees to manure to farm waste. Not all biomass is created equally in terms of the environment. But because these RECs are certified by Green-e, we know that this biomass is not from forests cut down for the sole purpose of burning.   

However, all biomass has to be burned to produce electricity, and burning releases carbon dioxide, which does contribute to climate change.  

This leads to another key point: Not all RECs are created equal.  

If you want renewable energy that’s also clean energy, you might prefer option two.  

Option 2: Dominion Energy’s Community Solar Program  

Dominion’s “Community Solar” Program was just approved by the State Corporation Commission a few weeks ago. Registration will be available within the next six months.  

Like the Green Power Program, you can sign up for 100 percent solar or blocks of solar. 

“Community Solar” will cost more than the Green Power Program, but it is 100 percent new solar energy produced in VIRGINIA.  

When you purchase these RECs, you know that the energy did not result in greenhouse gas emissions: particulates that exacerbate asthma, pipeline construction, or mountain top removal.  

You can get on their email list to be notified when registration begins. We suggest signing up right away, even if there’s a waiting list, because it will send the signal that electricity customers want renewable energy options.  

UP NEXT: Part II in this blog series covers options three and four – buying RECs through a broker and purchasing carbon offsets! 

(Article co-authored by Lena Lewis and Teri Kent)