Sunday, August 05, 2007

NSTAR Going Green

The power company responsible for much of the Boston area, NSTAR, recently announced that beginning in January (pending approval by state regulators), 1.1 million customers in Boston and beyond will be able to sign up for NSTAR Green and buy half or all of their "power directly from a wind farm in upstate New York and a second under development in Maine."

A report in the Boston Globe notes that while other Massachusetts utilities have offered small-scale green-power options, NSTAR's will be backed by a major marketing effort and the electricity will be purchased directly from wind farms rather than simply invested in wind facilities. "Technically, NSTAR customers would not get their power directly from the Maine and New York wind farms, because it is impossible to transmit electricity through the power grid to a specific meter. But by paying for the turbines at Maple Ridge and Kibby Mountain to feed into the interconnected New England and New York power grids the same amount of power they're drawing from conventional sources closer to Boston such as coal, nuclear power, and gas- and oil-fired plants, NSTAR customers signing up for the program would be able to say they use the equivalent of 100 percent wind power."

NSTAR "is signing 10-year contracts to buy a total of 30 megawatts of power from each installation, in total equal to the demand of about 45,000 homes or small businesses. That's around 2 percent of the utility's average total demand," and CEO Thomas May told the paper "We hope the program is oversubscribed and we have to go back and buy more."

I hope so too. In fact, nothing would make me happier.

Naturally, there's a bit of a catch, as the Globe notes: Across the country, less than 1% of customers have signed up for green power options offered by their utility companies. In NSTAR's case, "Because the wind farms are more expensive than other sources such as coal and nuclear power, a typical homeowner would pay a premium of about $7.50 to $15 monthly." That's 1.75 cents per kiloWatt hour if you buy half your electricity from wind or 3 cents per kWh for the full option.

$15 more a month? In Boston, that's the equivalent of oh, two restaurant lunches, or five cups of coffee, or (in my case) a book or two. Hardly seems like a sacrifice, does it?

As soon as this program is approved, I'll be signing up. I hope others, both in Boston and beyond, will join me in taking a simple step forward and making a statement of commitment to renewable energy. To me, that's worth a sandwich or two every month. Is it to you?