At my previous home I had grid-connected, battery-backed solar. It was pretty cool, though I discovered after I had it all installed that (even though I paid cash for it) I didn’t really own it. It was cloud-connected, and the big-name car company that manufactured it retained remote control of it and manipulated it to the benefit of the utility company instead of the system’s owner, me. Still, it met all my power needs most of the time, though the house was heated with natural gas (boo…).

When I moved, I likely lost money on the system as it was only a few years old. Despite what the fast-talking solar installer might tell you, the increased price I got for the house likely didn’t make up for what I had spent on the system. I knew it wouldn’t, too, but I wanted the reliability and planet-friendly features I got from solar.

Why not solar in the new place? Same problems. Due to the latitude, I would have to connect to the grid (especially after I installed a heat pump for heating) and the system would be very, very expensive in a home that was already at the high end of value for the neighborhood. This home was only ever intended as a transition to our forever home in Hawai’i. Due to latitude and space, on the island we’ll be able to be completely grid-independent (good thing, as there’s no grid to be had where we are) and we’ll be completely free of burning anything for energy.

In the mean time, I did the next best thing: I signed up for my utility’s green energy program. For a small monthly fee, they promise to source all my electricity from renewable, carbon-neutral sources.

But I fear it’s all just a spreadsheet.

Our utility is lucky to have some good hydroelectric sources and they’ve encouraged development of solar. In other words, I don’t think it’s likely that someone said “Hey! Twoprops has signed up for green energy! Let’s go find some sources of clean, renewable power to accomodate his awesome planet-friendly choice!” Instead, they just change some numbers in a spreadsheet to “credit” my account with some clean energy that was formerly going to, say, keep the lights on at an automobile dealership. The dealership now gets credited with some dirty energy (it’s unlikely they care) while the clean energy shows up as going to my house. But nothing else actually changes: the utility is still getting their energy from the same sources they used before. The electrons being pushed through my home and the automobile dealership haven’t changed. The amount of atmospheric carbon generated hasn’t changed.

Of course, if more people sign up for green energy than the utility can actually supply, they would have increasing incentive to expand their environmentally-considerate sourcing. They’ve actually committed to being carbon-neutral this decade which I think is laudable as long as their plan doesn’t rely on carbon-offset scams. But I can’t really buy into the notion that I’m helping save the plant by signing up for my utility’s “green” program.


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