Renewables not cheap

Wind, solar far higher cost than ‘polluting energy’ sources

IN DECEMBER, A company called CleanChoice Energy mailed out a sales pitch to electricity customers in eastern Massachusetts. The letter acknowledged that 100 percent renewable energy from solar and wind would cost “a little more” than “polluting energy,” but said the added expense was worth it.

“That’s because the energy you are choosing is better for you and the planet,” the brochure said. “When you add more renewable energy to the electric grid, you are reducing toxic waste and air pollution, making the world a healthier place with cleaner air.”

In smaller print, CleanChoice Energy said the current fixed rate for the company’s clean energy was 14.8 cents per kilowatt hour, which compared to 8.2 cents a kilowatt hour for the electricity procured for customers by Eversource through competitive bidding.

The difference in price is huge. For a typical customer using 600 kilowatt hours a month, the Eversource price is $49.20, while the CleanChoice product costs $85.20. That’s just the price for electricity, and doesn’t include separate transmission, distribution, and customer service charges assessed by Eversource.

The state Department of Public Utilities operates a website where customers can compare electricity offers, and 100 percent renewable energy offers are all priced higher. At press time in December, there were five options for people seeking 100 percent renewable energy, with prices ranging from a low of 10.1 cents a kilowatt hour with Champion Energy Service to a high of 15.8 cents with CleanChoice. The CleanChoice price apparently went up since the mailing.

Those companies with lower renewable energy prices tend to have cancellation fees if the customer wants to get out of the 12-month contract early. Champion, for example, charges a fee of $10 a month for each month left on the contract. Green Mountain Energy, which charges 10.2 cents a kilowatt hour for renewable energy, assesses a $150 fee for early cancellation.

Eversource procures power for customers in six-month increments. Its 8.2-cent price expired at the end of December, and rose to 9.996 cents per kilowatt hour for the six-month period which ends at the end of June. The July-December price is typically well below the January-June winter price.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Michael Durand, a spokesman for Eversource, said the company used to offer a renewable energy option to customers called NStar Green, but discontinued the program a year ago. Few customers took advantage of the program, which relied primarily on power from wind farms.

“We established it to give customers a green option back at a time when those options weren’t as prevalent as they are now,” Durand says. “We’re now using the power generated by those two wind farm contracts as part of our basic service portfolio.”