Affordable Renewable Electricity is Here!

by Jim Winkle (updated 15-Sep-2016)

Climate change (global warming, more severe storms, etc.) is emerging as one of the most important issues of our time. The single largest cause of climate change is electricity usage because coal-fired power plants are collectively the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

Fortunately, there are three ways to easily and affordably use 100% renewable electricity in Madison, Wisconsin, and most other cities, too. Even if you don't believe climate change is caused by the use of fossil fuels, using renewable energy is a great way -- perhaps the ONLY way -- for our country to attain energy independence!

  1. Buy green power from Madison Gas & Electric (MG&E). This revamped program (mostly wind energy, some solar) is available and costs 4 cents more per kWh than electricity produced by coal; the average consumer will spend $24 per month extra for 100% renewable energy, less if you conserve. (They tripled the size of their wind farm to accommodate anticipated demand; kudos to them for taking the lead on this!)

    90% of Wisconsin utilities now offer the option of purchasing renewable energy (although the prices differ); see energyindependence.wi.gov (the "Power" section). If your utility doesn't offer anything like this, ask them why, and purchase carbon offsets through Native Energy or other similar programs instead. Either way, this requires no up-front costs, is pretty affordable, and is very simple to do.

    But there are even less expensive options....

  2. Rent solar from CitizenRE's REnU program, or some similar program. They'll install solar electric panels on your roof, and all you pay is a deposit. You'll pay CitizenRE instead of MG&E for your usage, and lock in at today's electricity rates for up to 10 years. I don't have any personal experience with this new national company, so you might want to seek out opinions elsewhere.

  3. Buy your own solar. This is the least expensive option in the long run, but has high up-front costs.

    After you finish this short article, be sure to read my detailed article which explains how we decided that going solar made sense. The executive summary is this: it will likely pay for itself in 15 years (the panels will still be under warranty) and then we could easily save $37,000 dollars in electric bills over its lifetime.

    UW-Madison (my employer) also wrote an article about our solar, and took a cool photo.

    Just shy of our solar's tenth birthday, a redevelopment threatens to partially shade our solar because they are requesting two extra stories. The Isthmus weekly newspaper wrote an article about this.

People who purchase a hybrid car often do so to reduce their contribution to greenhouse gases and save money. But keeping your existing car and spending those dollars on renewable electricity actually makes more sense.

Why? Cars are certainly a big contributor to greenhouse gases, but for the average energy consumer, electricity is even bigger. And the difference to the environment between improving your mileage vs. eliminating your emissions from electricity is very large (check it out for yourself; read this, or use a carbon footprint calculator). As a bonus, buying your own solar will help your pocketbook more than driving a hybrid; you'll save more money with solar in the long run.

I give a fun talk entitled Potent Home Remedies for Climate Change. Contact me if you're interested.

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