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Don’t Pay for your Utility Company’s Green Energy Program (or Trust Super PACs)

Last updated by on 11 Comments

Here’s a fun little story, regardless of what state you reside in. Corporate greed and manipulation seem to be somewhat universal themes. This one will actually save you some money, if you’ve been suckered by feelings of guilt for your energy consumption.

The Utility Green Energy Halo

Two utility companies have a monopoly on the State of Michigan market – DTE and Consumers Energy.

The monopoly I belong to in my town is DTE energy.

Having a bit of a green thumb, I was excited to find out, a year or so ago, that DTE was running a green energy program called “Green Currents“.

To sign up for the program, you must pay 2 additional cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). This is about a 13% increase over their September price of $0.146 price per kWh.

I thought to myself: “OK, that’s great! I will be able to sleep easier at night knowing that my 13% electric bill premium is going to pay for clean, fresh, renewable energy. Oh, and look, hun: 22,000 customers have signed up already!”

Finger on mouse ready to click enrollment button… “Waaaait a minute! What am I getting here? Would my and every other customer’s 13% premium actually go into a fund to support the building of the next wind turbine? Or solar array?”

“By enrolling, you are supporting the generation of electricity from Michigan-based, renewable energy sources. Eighty-seven percent of the renewable energy we provide comes from biomass sources like cow power (biogas) and landfill gas and 13% comes from wind turbines.”

Hmm… OK. Only 13% of renewable from wind? No solar?

And… what exactly am I “supporting”? Are you going to directly deposit the funds to pay for the next renewable source? Am I supporting your CEO’s multi-million dollar bonus to purchase his next Escalade? Can more “cow power” completely support a state with a population of 9 million? We need more cows!

Can you provide me with any information or assurances? No? Shouldn’t you be increasing renewables on your own without surcharging customers anyways?

I left… discouraged.

Enter Michigan Ballot Proposal 3

utility green powerOn November 2nd, the residents of the State of Michigan have an opportunity to ensure than they will be receiving actual clean energy. A majority vote of “yes” on ballot proposal 3 would create a State of Michigan constitutional amendment to require utilities to obtain at least 25% of their electricity from clean, renewable energy sources by 2025.

Proposal 3 was born through an initiative by citizens that acquired the 322,609 signatures needed to place the proposal on the ballot. And it succeeded. Why would citizens push for this?

Surely, a company with such a green thumb and commitment to growing renewables like DTE Energy would support such an endeavor. Right?

They, along with the state’s other utility, Consumer’s Energy (with its own renewable surcharge program called “Green Generation“), decided to exercise their freedom of speech and formed an unlimited-funds Super PAC called “Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition”, or “CARE” for short. Each company contributed $3 million to fund Super PAC ads through CARE. These ads will undoubtedly go towards supporting the passage of proposal 3, because CARE cares about Michigan families and green energy, right?

Wait – they all went towards anti-proposal 3 attack ads? And the expense of those attack ads will exceed the annual surcharges from their green energy programs?

Maybe our green stewards suddenly aren’t so green, after all. At least, they don’t intend to be until:

a. the cost of renewable source + infrastructure to build it is less than the cost of coal

b. they are forced to do it by the citizens who have no real consumer choice in who supplies their energy

Maybe they never really intended for the programs to do anything other than mislead customers to pay more for their electricity with no actual environmental benefit, while they avoided REAL renewable progress by appearing to actually give a damn.

Meanwhile, all those Green Currents and Green Generation premiums might as well have gone directly towards paying for their anti-renewable TV ads (which cost right around the annual revenue attained from the green programs).

But that’s OK, nobody will know, it’s not DTE Energy and Consumers Energy that are running the ads. It’s “CARE”, and with a name like that, they must be looking out for our best interests.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t subscribe to your utilities green energy program. EVER. They are complete sham “halo” campaigns. The only thing that will actually encourage a utility to switch to renewables are lower costs or government. You paying them extra will not do anything. Put those funds in to a savings account and save up your money and buy your own solar array some day so you will no longer be reliant on your utility at all. This is coming from an environmental die-hard.
  2. Demand your utility advance renewable energy on its own (or force them to do it to through the democratic process).
  3. Never trust a Super PAC or a political ad. Always do research on your own before voting and change the channel if you see or hear a political ad.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • TS says:

    Two companies cannot have a monopoly. That would be a duopoly.

  • Chasa says:

    Using the methane generated from landfills and cow manure IS a better way than coal. The methane from these sources can just float into the atmosphere, wasted and causing pollution. Building landfills that are able to harness the methane generated takes time and engineering skill – something worth paying for. I don’t argue that these companies are self interested and do work to keep themselves maximally profitable, I just don’t like your disappointed tone when referring to harnessing the power of this waste methane. You should read more about it – funding ‘smart’ landfills is money well spent in my book.

  • Nicholas says:

    You mean government sanctioned entities are misleading the public in regards to funds appropriations? Say it ain’t so…

  • Julia says:

    I feel like solar would be a stretch in Michigan. You *MIGHT* get a payback if you take advantage of all the government support, and everything ages predictably. But I would recommend doing your research when it comes to picking the solar application. A collector for preheating your boiler often wins out over a true panel…

  • Jay says:

    Does encouraging readers to get their utility providers to use more expensive sources really make the most sense for a personal FINANCE blog?

    Not a fan of the overtly political turn this blog has taken.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I’m encouraging readers to save their money in the short term. Long-term, a switch to renewables saves us all money. If my promoting renewable energy is political, so be it. Everyone should be in favor. It’s good for the economy and the environment.

    • Mary says:

      Jay, this post is more GE alearting readers to the deceptive practices of utilities’ “green programs” than it is about trying to get us to push our utility providers towards more expensive energy sources. Pointing out misleading investments to readers is an entirely relevant subject for a personal finance blog.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Right now most utility companies are offering rebates on solar systems and the feds are offering 30% tax CREDITs on solar also.

    But, with an uncertain economy and most of us not knowing if we are going to be keeping our jobs and therefore our houses, I have decided at this time to hold off on buying solar.

    I’m hoping someday the tech will get cheaper.


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