Green Consumers Need to Do their Homework

Posted on June 9, 2011. Filed under: Gary's Blog | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

We’ve won the initial battle of the market revolution to bring “green” to the mainstream consumer. But the campaign to dramatically change corporate culture and the American business paradigm has just begun. Far from resting on their laurels, green consumers need to do additional work now to ensure the initial gains are not lost in a flood of green washing. 

Green products are everywhere you look. It’s hard to find a major corporation that does not either sell a green product or at least have a sustainability statement. Organic products are sold at corporate super markets, green power is sold by the biggest utilities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Exxon-Mobil rolled out a green product. As a green consumer, you now have a myriad of choices at prices that are competitive with non-green products. But before you go to McDonald’s to buy that organic hamburger, think about the real reason you are shopping for green products.

There are generally a few prime motivators in green purchasing. Primarily, these motivators range around the desire of the consumer to reduce his/her direct environmental impact. It is the primary motivation for the widest range of green consumers. If this is your primary motivating factor, the company you buy the product from matters less than the product itself. However, as green consumer sophistication increases, the company who makes or delivers the product plays a larger role in the decision process.

The sophisticated green consumer understands that voluntary purchases on their own will not make enough of a difference to solve the environmental problems we face, especially climate change. Buying a green product from Exxon, for example, may help to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but it could actually be argued that it harms the overall effort to reduce carbon.

When you give your business to non-green companies for a green product, they take the earnings and they invest it into all the activities they do, including lobbying to kill any progressive environmental or consumer protection bill at the state or national level. This is important because we know that in order to solve climate change and other major environmental issues, we need to change the laws of our states and our nation, and to have a strong international agreement. Individual actions alone, while extremely important, cannot solve the problem.

Green consumers who bought green energy from Clean Currents know that their dollars went to reduce their personal carbon footprint, and that the impact of their dollars was magnified by our company’s actions on behalf of the planet. These actions include being the only energy company in Maryland to advocate for Governor O’Malley’s offshore wind bill, and for a consumer protection bill. They include reducing our company’s environmental impact through our sustainability policies. And the actions include the example we are setting for a new business paradigm, the Benefit Company. Clean Currents is the only energy company in the area that is certified by B-Corp for our sustainable operations, and that has our commitment to sustainability and the “public good” actually baked into our legal corporate DNA. Finally, green consumers know that any investment we make in the company with their money is for more green products. We are exclusively green. It’s all we do.

Unfortunately, if consumers purchased from some of the other companies that sell green energy in our region, they perhaps inadvertently gave their money to kill offshore wind, to kill more aggressive solar standards, to kill consumer protection, and to operate a business in the old paradigm. Some of their money may have gone to support development of more polluting sources of energy.

Thus, it’s more important than ever for green consumers to do their homework. Reducing your personal carbon footprint is important, and I am a strong advocate for that. It shows leadership in your community, it makes a difference, and it’s the right thing to do. But now we need to take it to the next level. Before buying from a company, see what their stance is on legislation vital to the environment. See if they mainly sell polluting energy and only do a little green. See if they have an independent third party verification of their sustainability practices. And please do not simply take the company’s word for it! “We’re sustainable, trust us!” is not good enough. Trust but verify, as a former President once said. Take the extra few minutes required to get a good idea of what the company actually does, not what it says.  We can discredit green washing if consumers learn to make well-informed choices.


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Spotlight on Zia’s Cafe

Posted on April 14, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

This week’s Clean Currents commercial customer spotlight is on Zia’s Cafe of Towson Maryland:

CC: Why did you think it was important to support clean renewable wind energy?

Zia’s: As a cafe & caterer of wholesome, cleanly produced foods, our passion and dedication is offering health-conscious foods that are also earth-conscious, minimizing our impact whenever possible.  So, for us, green power is kind of a no-brainer.  Clean Currents has helped us come full circle in our dedication to the planet by providing clean, green energy!

CC: Why do you care about global warming and clean energy solutions?

Zia’s: It’s so easy to ignore or push aside these kinds of problems because it’s not a sexy, sensationalized kind of story, which seems to be what gets the attention of the everyday American.  The human race destroys our environment a little bit each day and it’s difficult to see this quantitatively, particularly one person or one business’s impact.  But it is a international tragedy that knows not race, ethnicity, economic or social status, creed or religion, whose effects will begin to rear their ugly head more and more as the majority continues to live in ignorance and/or apathy.  However, we’ve all heard it before (hopefully), all YOU can do is YOUR part and support/encourage others to do the same.  That’s what we plan to do.

CC: Why did you pick Clean Currents?

Zia’s: Clean Currents offers competitive rates while understanding the importance of marketing and promoting our company’s choice to go 100% wind powered.  CC’s attention to detail, support and customer service have been extremely impressive, professional and pleasurable, making us proud to be affiliated with them and what they are doing.

CC: What are actions in your personal or professional life have you taken to reduce your climate impact?

Zia’s:  We use 100% recycled paper when we print documents.  We obsessively monitor our use of energy and our whole staff is dedicated to making sure we don’t waste energy.  We offer zero waste catering as well as compostable paper products.  We obviously do all the other little things like recycling and using green cleaning products, etc.

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What do we want? Wind Power! When do we want it? Now!

Posted on March 22, 2011. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Yesterday, some of the Clean Currents team joined CCAN, Sierra Club, MDLCV and hundreds of union workers in a rally to support Governor O’Malley’s Maryland offshore wind act (HB 1054/SB 861). The environmental contingency led by CCAN, organized by the docks for pep talk from Keith Harrington of CCAN and John Congedo, President of AC Wind. AC Wind has signed a lease on a factory in Salisbury, MD, where it promises to employ hundreds of workers to manufacture compoments for the offshore wind turbines. Congedo spoke of his emergence from retirement to start a company that will help America move towards a clean energy future. His decision came after a conversation with his daughter who asked him what he was doing to fix the problems his generation was responsible for exacerbating. He’s working in the wind industry because “wind power works”.

Energized by these speeches, we marched up to lawyers mall, gathering more supporters with our chants of “Wind Power! Now!” Hundreds of union workers were already rallying on the mall. The message was clear, their members need jobs now. With over 85,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the state of Maryland in the last two decades, offshore wind presents a unique opportunity to gain some of these jobs back and put people back to work. A true opportunity for a blue-green alliance.

Here are some more shots from the rally:

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CCAN is planning another rally with Governor O’Malley at 2 PM on Wednesday, March 23rd.

WHAT: Wind press conference with Governor Martin O’Malley
WHERE: Annapolis City Dock, Alex Haley Memorial (same spot as Monday)
WHEN: Wednesday March 23, 2:30PM
WHO: Speakers including Governor Martin O’Malley, Jim Strong of the United Steelworkers, Mike Tidwell of CCAN, Brad Heavner of Environment Maryland and more…
WHY: Because the bill may be voted on Thursday or Friday and we need to keep on being as big and visible as possible. The Governor needs your support once more!
RAIN OR SHINE: There will be tents set up on site, but bring an umbrella!

 Contact Keith for more details.

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Pepco’s Reliability Woes

Posted on March 14, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

It’s not news to Maryland and DC residents that Pepco’s service reliability has been subpar lately. Both Maryland and DC customers have lost power during rain and snow storms, as well as those unexplainable and maybe even more frustrating “blue sky” outages. Pepco leadership has admitted to these failings after reports ranked the utility near the bottom for both relaibility and customer service.

The Maryland Public Service Commission released an independent consultant report this month that showed the deterioriation in reliability goes back to 2004, when Pepco failed to make distribution grid improvements after Hurricane Isabel. This same report concluded that Pepco’s own reliability plan was thrown together hastily without much thought or analysis.  Pepco has denied this claim and has faulted dense tree cover for much of its reliability woes. However, as this insightful Washington Post analysis from December 2010 points out, the argument does not excuse poor performance, as utilities in cities with similar or denser tree cover have been able to provide much more reliable service to customers.

Frustration over Pepco’s performance has been a growing concern for citizens and lawmakers in DC and Maryland. In Maryland, numerous open letters to Pepco as well as ads targetting the utility appeared on the campaign trail this fall. Governor Martin O’Malley released his letter to Pepco executives in January.

During this session, the Maryland General Assembly,  led by legislators from Montgomery County, is taking a serious look at bills that would hold Pepco and the other utilities in the state to a higher standard for reliability and service. As of this writing, there are at least three bills in play that would do something to help beleaguered consumers.

HB 391/SB 692 – The House version’s  (HB 391) chief sponsor is Montgomery County Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15). Most of the other MoCo legislators are on board with this and it was a O’Malley Administration priority. The Senate version is sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mac Middleton (D-Charles County). Many MoCo Senators are on board as well. This bill would require Pepco and the other utilities to achieve certain minimum performance standards or face serious penalties from the Public Service Commission. The bill would strive to put Pepco and the other utilities at the top of the class, rather than the bottom, nationally.

HB 1171/SB 749 – The House version is sponsored by House Economic Matter Committee Chair Dereck Davis (D – Prince George’s) and the Senate version by Senator Roger Manno (D-19), a Montgomery County legislator.  This bill also requires the utilities to report on their performance, though in a slightly different way than the other bill. It looks at the effect on income lost for businesses, hardship for the elderly, and other factors.

HB 1278 – This bill only has a House version, sponsored by Montgomery County Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20). It would prevent Pepco and the other utilities from charging customers for times when the power was out. It provides a real financial incentive for Pepco and others to do a better job, while protecting consumers from paying for something they shouldn’t have to pay for.

These bills are all good efforts at addressing the serious problems in the Pepco and Delmarva service areas in particular. Let’s hope they pass, because the record shows the utilities need to improve a lot. The chart below illustrates average reliability of the various service areas in Maryland as measured by the System-Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and the System-Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI). Pepco and Delmarva have the highest results in each category.

Average Reliability Results (2005-2009)

Distribution Territory SAIFI (Measures Frequency of Interruptions) SAIDI (Measures Duration of Interruptions)
Allegheny 1.09 3.28
BGE 1.49 4.09
Choptank 2.16 3.94
Delmarva 2.23 5.73
Pepco 2.14 5.70
SMECO 1.15 2.57
Source: MD Public Service Commission via Fiscal Note HB 391

Other proposals in the Maryland General Assembly suggested everything from moving utility lines underground to getting rid of Pepco altogether (WaPo features a great overview of these suggestions here).

On the local level, Montgomery County Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich have all recently commented on Pepco’s performance. Councilmember Elrich has even suggested replacing Pepco with a Public Power Utility. Such a utility is owned by the public (the government) and is therefore hopefully more mindful of stakeholder (public) interests instead of being narrowly focused on investor profit.

In DC, Councilmember Mary Cheh has been a vocal supporter of increased regulation and reliability standards for Pepco. In January, Cheh introduced legislation to the Council to improve Pepco’s reliability.  As she explained last month on an appearance on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, she believes the DC Public Service Commission should be much more vigilant in regulating Pepco’s reliability than it has been in the past and that Pepco’s investors, rather than ratepayers, should pay for the penalities Pepco accrues during outages.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Pepco’s reliability challenges and the legislative response. Hopefully it will result in more than just another “5-point, 10-point, 16-point plan”

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Atlantic Offshore Wind Announcement – Happening Now

Posted on November 23, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior announces Atlantic Wind Initiative:  “Smart from the Start

  • This initiative builds on Cape Wind lessons to shorten the amount of time to complete leasing process for offshore wind projects. Cape Wind took 8 years!
  • Smart from the Start will also build off lessons from large scale solar development in the Southwest.
  • Additional leases to be issued in 2011 and 2012.
  • Next 60 days: identify high potential Wind Energy Areas (low environmental conflict) Already gathering info on DE and MD. If environmental review is passed, leases will be rewarded.
  • Change in regulations of Federal oceans management: elimination of a step that could save a year or more in permitting process.
  • Moving forward and contracting timeframe on for getting offshore built.

Comments from state and federal leaders:

Governor Martin O’Malley: Regulatory framework was too complex and needs to be shortened. “This is an important step today…the battle from a cleaner greener future will take more than a few days…it will take relentless follow up…Maryland stands with you to harness this tremendous resource”

Senator Tom Carper (DE): “Common sense rules and regulation provide predictability and certainty for businesses who need predictability, who need certainty” Want to make sure that all the peices are made in the US and help boost the US economy. Need to extend investment and production tax credits that will expire before projects will get built.

Senator Chris Coons (DE): The business community needs speed and reliability in order to get projects built”

Congressman John Sarbanes (MD): ZThis initiative hits the big 3 targets: 1) Advances environmental soundness and prudence going forward, 2) advances energy independence,  3) creates jobs. Domestic supply chain is a very exciting opportunity.

Jim Lanard, Offshore Wind Development Coalition: “Very important step…what we’ve been looking for and waiting for for years” Cannot underestimate the signals this announcement will send to supply chain partners to invest soon. Regulatory certainty will bring jobs to the US.

Predesignation of offshore wind zones will alllow the timeline for implementation to shrink.

Gov. O’Malley: In Maryland, the offshore wind resource is much greater than onshore wind. It will be important for Maryland to figure out how to enter into LT purchase contracts to give developers financial certainty.

Salazar: LT policy framework is crucial for lasting renewable development. What form will that take is still up for debate. Singular unique opportunity to do something major to take charge of the power needs of the US.

Regulatory approach will help advance investor interest: Designating high priority areas. All government effort in the next 6 months (DoD, FAA, NOAA, Coast Guard) pull information into prospectus to provide to investment public and ask who will invest. Expect to be in the leasing stage within a year with more information that has every been amassed. Once a company gets a lease, they will have less work to do because they will already have so much information. This will increase investor interest- already a good investment. Also, at the same time incentivize and promote offshore transmission lines- lots of synergies here.

 See other posts on offshore wind here.

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The Grass is Always Greener….

Posted on August 9, 2010. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , , , |

…When you mow it with a battery powered mower! And now, Maryland residents can get their hands on a Neuton CE 5 or CE 6 battery powered mower at a great price during the Great Mower Exchange.

The exchange will be held Saturday, Aug 14 at Camden Yards where the Maryland Department of the Environment and Clean Air Partners will be on hand with 1000 Neuton mowers. Bring your old mower, and receive a Neuton CE5 for $135 or a Neuton CE6 for $175 (a savings of $264-$324!). Make sure you reserve your mower before heading out to Camden Yards!

Got your mower? Tell us about it! Post your comments about gas-free mowing below.

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MD General Assembly Passes Bill to Boost Solar RPS

Posted on April 14, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Early this week, the Maryland General Assembly passed the bill supported by Governor O’Malley to ramp up the state’s  Solar Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Under the renewable portfolio standard law that was passed in Maryland in 2007, utilities have to supply a certain amount of their energy from solar and other renewables or pay an Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP). The bill that passed earlier this week will increase the solar carve out of the RPS to .5% by 2016. It will also maintain a $400 ACP through 2014 (in the original legislation the ACP decline gradually to $250 by 2014).

The higher ACP is good news for those considering solar installations as they will be able to recieve more money for their Solar Renewable Energy Credits and reduce the payback time on this investment!

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