June 3, 2021

Can I Really Switch to Renewables as a Renter?

by How to Save a Planet

Background show artwork for How to Save a Planet

Powering our homes with low-carbon electricity is one of the most effective things we can do to address climate change. But what if you rent your home, and you can’t install solar panels or control your building’s energy supply? This week, we look at a company offering “100% clean, pollution-free power” to renters and homeowners alike. All you have to do is sign up – no solar panels, no upfront costs, you can even keep your same utility. Is it actually that easy to switch to renewable energy, or is this too good to be true?

Check out our Calls to Action archive for all of the actions we've recommended on the show. Send us your ideas or feedback with our Listener Mail Form. Sign up for our newsletter here. And follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

This episode of How to Save a Planet was produced by Anna Ladd. The rest of our reporting and producing team includes Kendra Pierre-Louis and Rachel Waldholz. Our intern is Ayo Oti. Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney. Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard with original music from Emma Munger.

Where to Listen


Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Welcome to How to Save a Planet. I'm Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.

Alex Blumberg: And I'm Alex Blumberg. And this is the show about what we need to do to address climate change, and how we make those things happen.

Anna Ladd: Well hello, Alex.

Alex: Well hello, Anna. You're How to Save a Planet producer Anna Ladd, and you're here to guest host today.

Anna: I am.

Alex: Ayana is off working on her other planet-saving projects this week. And you have something to share, correct?

Anna: Yes. I have something very exciting to share with you.

Alex: Okay.

[singing: It's listener mail time!]

Alex: I really hit it that time.

Anna: It's good every time, isn't it? But even better ...

Alex: Uh-huh.

Anna: It's a physical piece of mail.

Alex: Whoa, look at that!

Anna: Let me show you it.

Alex: It's got the cellophane window with the address and stuff, and it says CleanChoice Energy. Energy documents enclosed. And I see here it's addressed to you.

Anna: Yes. So this is technically my mail, not listener mail, which does mean that we need a new jingle.

Alex: [laughs] I don't know if this counts as a distinction that requires a whole new jingle, although I'm down for it.

Anna: But I wanted a new jingle, so that's what we're gonna do.

[singing: It's Anna's mail time!]

Alex: [laughs] I always love the excuse to make a new jingle.

Anna: So I got this letter from this company called CleanChoice Energy.

Alex: Mm-hmm.

Anna: CleanChoice Energy is making me an offer. They say that if I sign up with them, I, as a renter in New York City, can get 100 percent clean, pollution-free energy without having to put up solar panels or change my utility.

Alex: Mm-hmm.

Anna: And we've heard from our listeners that they're getting letters and offers like this too, from companies saying, "Just switch to us, and we'll source clean, renewable electricity for you."

Alex: Mm-hmm.

Anna: And these companies don't just woo you over the mail. Sometimes you'll see them with a table set up at, like, your local farmer's market, or at the movie theater, or at the train station. And they'll say something like, "Switch to 100 percent renewable energy, and we'll give you a gift card."

Alex: Wait, I just—I just realized as you were telling me this, I signed up for something like this at the farmers' market a while ago in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Anna: Was it Green Mountain Power?

Alex: I'm pretty sure it was Green Mountain Power.

Anna: Yup.

Alex: My wife and I were at the farmers' market one day. And we were renting, and we signed up. And I remember asking him, I was like, "Well, I'm a renter. Is that gonna work?" And they were like, "No, it's fine. It's good." And so I signed up, and then I think we got power from Green Mountain Power for a long time. And I think we moved. I don't think we do it anymore. But should we? [laughs]

Anna: [laughs] I'm wondering the same thing, because the way we power our homes is very much a big contributor to climate change. And one of the best ways to cut down on those emissions is to switch to renewables or another zero-carbon energy source.

Alex: Exactly. I believe we've said this many times on the podcast. A big part of the solution is switching to green electricity.

Anna: But there's a problem with that.

Alex: Yeah?

Anna: I'm 26. I rent.

Alex: Uh-huh.

Anna: I have no immediate plans to buy a house and put solar panels on it, and I don't have any control over the kind of energy that's coming into my apartment building. So this letter seems like it would allow me, as a renter, to be able to switch to renewable power without having to buy any solar panels or buy a house to put the solar panels on.

Alex: Great! Sounds good.

Anna: But it also seems a little bit too easy.

Alex: Yeah.

Anna: Which makes me feel like maybe there's something a little bit sketchy going on.

Alex: And maybe you're just being jaded and cynical at the tender age of 26.

Anna: Me? Never! [laughs]

Alex: Maybe there is such a thing as just a good deal. Did you ever think of that?

Anna: Maybe.

Alex: Yes.

Anna: So that's what I decided to try and find out: can switching to completely renewable power really be as easy as responding to a piece of direct mail? And if so, why aren't we all doing this?

Alex: So today on the show, you are going to be leading us on a deep dive into that very question.

Anna: What's this letter offering? Can renters actually have 100 percent renewable energy without having to buy solar panels, and without getting hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked or led astray?

Alex: [laughs] All right.

Anna: It's all coming up.

Anna: So Alex, let's dive in.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: Can this letter from CleanChoice Energy really help me save the planet? And I guess the first step here would be to open it up and read it.

Alex: Right. Sounds like a good first step. Okay. It's like three pages. It, like, unscrolls forever. It's like, what is that, 8.5"x14"?

Anna: This main letter says, "Important notice. Action requested."

Alex: Okay.

Anna: Notice to New York residents: energy deregulation in New York allows you to select the energy supply used to power your home.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: One, simply sign and return this entire page. And two, get 100 percent clean, pollution-free energy.

Alex: Hmm.

Anna: Your electricity will still be delivered, billed, and serviced by ConEd—which is our utility here. You're simply telling ConEd to switch your electric supply to CleanChoice Energy.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: So this letter that I got is from what's called an energy services company or an ESCO.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: And these companies exist in states like New York, which is one of 17 states where utilities don't actually generate most of the electricity that comes to your house. The utility buys the electricity on the wholesale power market, and then distributes it to us through the grid—which they do own, but they don't actually own the power plants.

Alex: Got it. So some utilities, utilities in 17 states are basically just distributors.

Anna: Yes.

Alex: In other words, there are companies that generate the electricity, like power plants. That can be a coal or a natural gas plant, or a solar or a wind farm, and then there's the utility that buys that electricity from the power plants on what's called the wholesale power market, and then distributes it to us through the grid, which the utility owns and manages.

Anna: And the reason that they don't generate the power is because of deregulation. So back in the '90s, a bunch of states passed laws trying to stop utilities from being full monopolies over the electric system.

Alex: Right.

Anna: Basically saying to the utilities, "You can distribute power, but you can't produce it."

Alex: Gotcha.

Anna: So if you live in New York or one of these other 16 states, you have the option of going with whatever your utility is offering you, or you can pick a specific energy supplier of your choice, which is an ESCO.

Alex: Got it.

Anna: And there's more than a hundred of them to pick in just New York City alone. So CleanChoice is not the only one. There's Green Mountain Energy, like you're signed up for. Kiwi is another, like, renewable one. There's one called Aggressive Energy. [laughs]

Alex: Mm-hmm.

Anna: And these hundred or so ESCOs aren't all renewable electricity companies, but some of them, like CleanChoice, have renewable-specific offers.

Alex: I got it. I guess my question is wait, why this system? [laughs]

Anna: Great question. So the way that people originally imagined this system working is that introducing all of this competition would drive the electricity prices down, and that it would drive some innovation in the energy space as well as giving customers more choice over their energy supply.

Alex: Okay. That seems like a beautiful theory. But we all know about theory and practice. So how is it working?

Anna: At least as far as price is concerned, it is mostly not working.

Alex: Oh no!

Anna: And the first clue that it's not working pops up pretty much the minute you start Googling to investigate. Quite literally pops up—it's a pop-up window.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: In New York, on the website for the state agency that regulates all these ESCOs and the utility, called the Public Service Commission, they have this tool where you can compare the prices of all the different ESCOs to the utility. And other deregulated states should have a tool like this too, but in New York, before it lets you even look at the tool to do the comparison, it makes you read and confirm that you have read this long, multi-bullet consumer advisory.

Alex: Whoa! Let me just read this first bullet. "The Public Service Commission has been critical of certain energy services companies or ESCOs." And then it goes on to say, "Particularly regarding prices, the commission is considering whether the retail access market for energy commodity is working properly, or if it should be revised." So basically, the system that you just described, where all these different suppliers supply the power, and they can sort of go to you directly and say, "Buy our power." "No, buy our power." They're trying to figure out is that market even working?

Anna: Right.

Alex: That seems like a red flag if the regulator is saying, like, "We don't know if this is even working."

Anna: And there's another red flag, which is when you actually start to look at the costs.

Alex: This is after you've, like, attested that you've read all the warnings?

Anna: Yes, I have read the terms and conditions.

Alex: Right.

Anna: I've entered my zip code, and now I can see all the different ESCOs that I could buy power from.

Alex: Okay. So you found 78 different electricity offers in your zip code. Wow!

Anna: So in my letter that I got from CleanChoice Energy, they offered me 11.4 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first month, with the following months priced at a "variable rate."

Alex: Oh boy, okay. Does it say what that variable rate will be?

Anna: This is how the letter explains it: "Your price may vary each month, and is based on a number of costs, which may include but are not limited to: energy, transmission, capacity, ancillary services, renewable energy certificates, RTO system fees, and other factors, plus CleanChoice Energy operating costs, expenses, and margins. This list of factors is not exhaustive, and no single factor will determine the rate."

Alex: So basically they're saying like, "We can't tell you, but it's gonna change," essentially. [laughs]

Anna: Pretty much. But on this New York State website, they have this feature where you can look at what the variable rate has been for all of these ESCOs and for the utility for the last two years.

Alex: Oh, so that's super handy. So at least, it won't tell you what the variable rate will be in the future, but at least you can look at what it has been over the past two years, and that should give you basically an idea.

Anna: Right.

Alex: Okay, I'm on the edge of my seat. What is the historical rate for CleanChoice Energy?

Anna: The variable rate for CleanChoice this month is around 22 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is double that introductory offer.

Alex: Wow!

Anna: So if I switched to CleanChoice Energy, and got past that first month, the historical rate suggests that the supply part of my electricity bill could double.

Alex: And this 22 cents a kilowatt-hour, which is what the historical rate suggests you would be paying, how does that compare to, like, just the regular old utility bill?

Anna: Compared to the historic supply rates for ConEd, this 22 cent per kilowatt-hour rate is double or in some cases triple the ConEd rate.

Alex: Double or triple what you would get just by the default option of paying straight to your utility?

Anna: Yes.

Alex: That does not seem good.

Anna: No.

Alex: [laughs]

Anna: It's not preferred. CleanChoice does say in the letter that they sent me that quote, "Supporting renewable energy costs more than polluting energy." And I know personally people who have done this, they've signed up for one of these ESCOs and they have had their bills shoot up after this introductory fixed rate ends. Like, for example, here's my friend Sam.

Sam: Our energy bill got really f***ing high. Like, insanely expensive. Like, for a three-bedroom house in South Philly, like, our bill was regularly above $300.

Alex: Whoa!

Anna: And that $300 bill, he figured was about double what he would have paid if he just went through his utility.

Alex: Right.

Anna: And if you search CleanChoice or Green Mountain or any of these ESCOs on the New York City subReddit, you will find lots of stories like this, where people are posting, warning their neighbors about how they got super high bills after they signed up for an ESCO.

Alex: Oh!

Anna: I actually called one of the posters named Alex. Different Alex.

Alex: Mm-hmm. Not me.

Anna: And he told me he'd signed up for a fixed rate plan years ago, totally forgot about it, but when the fixed rate plan was up, his bills also went up.

Alex: They became kind of extreme. I mean, I would pay something like, paying $200 or $300 for a power bill was, like, typical. And at some point it hit, like, $500, and I lost it. I was like, okay, I'm sorry, like, there's something—something's wrong here.

Anna: Because Alex had forgotten he'd signed up for an ESCO, which, like, is easy to do, in that you also signed up for an ESCO and forgot about it.

Alex: Right. Yes, exactly. Because your utility just continues to send you the bill, so it doesn't look that different.

Anna: Right. So Alex called his utility, ConEdison, to see what was up.

Alex: I'm basically gearing for war. I thought they were doing something to cheat me. And what instead I got was this, like, very friendly, pleasant lady. And she looks at my account, and I'll never forget the sound of her voice. She was like, "Oh, you have an ESCO." And she said it in the same way that, like, a doctor would say, like, "Oh, you have a tick."

Anna: If you remember earlier this year during the ice storm in Texas, where some people's electricity bills were thousands of dollars, this happened in part because of variable electricity rates. And in some states, ESCOs have been accused of using, like, pretty predatory practices to get customers to sign up, doing things like cold-calling seniors and making it seem like they work for the utility, and locking them into these contracts that they don't really understand. And then suddenly their electricity bills can be double or triple what they're used to.

Alex: Wow! So here's what I know: some ESCOs are saying that they're offering renewable energy, but when you sign up for one of these ESCOs, the rates can be—according to the historical rates tracker—much higher than the regular utility. In some cases, double or triple as high. And in fact, when you talked to your friend who had signed up for one, that was exactly his experience.

Anna: Right. And, like, as much as I love renewable energy, I don't really want to pay $300 power bills.

Alex: Right. You don't want your electricity bill to double.

Anna: There are some ESCO offers that'll let you make the switch for a fixed rate for a year or for two years, so you can at least safeguard against, like, unpredictably high energy bills. So, like, if I go on the CleanChoice website, they have offers for a year or for two years. So I can lock in a fixed rate for two years that's just a few cents higher than the regular rate.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: And while there's no publicly-available data comparing the price of renewable energy ESCOs with utility rates, there are studies looking at the whole ESCO market, and it found that the prices on average are 17 percent higher in New York, but not, like, double or triple for everyone across the board. And that's consistent with some other people I talked to who had signed up for an ESCO and said they were paying maybe an extra $10 or so a month.

Alex: Okay. So there are some horror stories of ballooning variable rates, but if you look at average ESCOs on a fixed rate, they're more expensive, but not lots more expensive.

Anna: Right.

Alex: So I guess my question is: if you're paying 17 percent more, and that extra 17 percent is going to help speed the transition to renewable energy, then maybe this is something worth doing. So Anna Ladd ...

Anna: That's me.

Alex: When we sign up for a clean energy ESCO, are we actually doing that? Are we actually speeding the transition to renewable energy?

Anna: I will answer that question for you.

Alex: Great!

Anna: After the break.

Alex: D'oh! Got me again! The break!

Alex: Welcome back. I'm here with How to Save a Planet producer Anna Ladd, who's answering a question that she and many of our listeners have about certain energy providers called ESCOs that promise to deliver completely clean energy to our homes. And we've arrived at the moment of truth. We know that some ESCOs can be more expensive, and that ESCOs on average are more expensive, but maybe it's worth it if they are in fact helping move the world more quickly to renewable energy. Anna Ladd, stop the stalling. No more breaks. Are they doing that?

Anna: So to help answer that, I called an expert, Michael Gillenwater, who's the executive director of the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, which is a non-profit that teaches people how to accurately account for emissions.

Alex: Right.

Anna: He did co-develop the US greenhouse gas inventory for the EPA, so he knows his greenhouse gas accounting stuff.

Alex: [laughs] Gotcha. Okay.

Anna: And I asked him point blank, like, should I sign up for this offer, and this is what he said.

Michael Gillenwater: To put it very simply, no.

Alex: Whoa!

Michael Gillenwater: The marketing language is that you are buying green power or you're being sold green power, but unfortunately, the why answer gets a great deal more complicated.

Alex: Holy s***.

Anna: So when you dive deep into the language of where exactly does this green power come from, there's a line in the FAQ on their website that says, "CleanChoice Energy purchases renewable electricity on behalf of our customers in the form of grid power plus renewable energy certificates."

Alex: Which is, like, the same electricity that everybody's getting?

Anna: Yes.

Alex: Plus something called a "renewable energy certificate." So what are renewable energy certificates? That seems to be the key here.

Anna: So a renewable energy certificate is created when a megawatt of renewable energy is generated. It's not an offset, it doesn't mean that a megawatt of fossil fuel generation has been replaced, it just means that a megawatt of renewable energy has been generated.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: RECs have been used so that utilities could confirm to states that they've met their clean electricity requirements.

Alex: I got it.

Anna: So lots of states have passed laws requiring utilities to either generate or buy—depending on the state—a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Alex: Right.

Anna: And these are called clean electricity standards, or in states usually renewable portfolio standards.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: And these certificates were like a tracking mechanism.

Alex: So the renewable energy certificate is a tracking mechanism to make sure that utilities are complying with the law.

Anna: Right. So say a utility in one state generated more wind power than they needed to meet their renewable portfolio standard, they could sell that REC to a utility that hasn't generated enough renewable power.

Alex: Okay, So let's just say a state like Nebraska where there's lots of wind, so lots of places to put up wind farms, but state law there does not require any renewable electricity. So Nebraska is one of the states that has no clean electricity standard. So in Nebraska, they do get power from the wind farms on their grid, but the utility doesn't need the RECs to prove to the state that they're using wind power.

Anna: Right.

Alex: But just north of Nebraska is Minnesota, where state law does require that, right now, over a quarter of all energy has to be clean. So the utility in Minnesota needs RECs to prove to the regulators that they're meeting their standard.

Anna: And it's important to point out that any megawatt of energy from any energy source paired with a REC means it's counted as renewable energy. The REC is technically what makes something count as renewable energy in the eyes of a regulator. So Minnesota can buy these RECs from clean energy producers in their own state, but if there aren't enough wind or solar farms in Minnesota to supply all the RECs that they need, they can buy RECs from utilities and producers in other states as well—like Nebraska. And this system, which allows states to purchase each other's RECs separate from the power itself, it creates an incentive for a developer to build a wind farm in a state like Nebraska, even though there's no law requiring utilities to buy a certain amount of clean energy there. The wind producer in Nebraska can get a good price for the RECs, because these utilities in other states have some state-mandated targets to meet.

Alex: They need those RECs.

Anna: They do. And this particular REC market, where power producers in one state can sell RECs to utilities in another, trying to meet their renewable portfolio standards, this is called "The compliance market."

Alex: So far so good. So if ESCOs like CleanChoice Energy are also buying these RECs, then aren't they helping to drive this market of rewarding power companies for making clean energy?

Anna: No? [laughs]

Alex: [laughs] Okay. No? Okay. Why not?

Anna: Because these renewable energy-focused ESCOs are buying their RECs on a completely different market.

Alex: All right. So we've got RECs, we've got compliance markets, we've got a whole other market. I'm confused.

Anna: So let me make it make sense.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: Let's take your example of Nebraska.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: A wind power plant in Nebraska is generating lots of RECs because they're making lots of wind energy, but they don't need to sell those RECs to their local utility because there's no clean electricity standard in Nebraska.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: So they can sell their RECs separately from their energy.

Alex: Right.

Anna: Let's say they have a hundred RECs.

Alex: Uh-huh.

Anna: They can sell 40 to Minnesota, they can sell 40 to Colorado, and then they've got 20 left over.

Alex: What, because no other states need them?

Anna: Right. And those remaining 20, they can sell to something called the voluntary market. This is not where utilities are buying their RECs, this is where a clean energy ESCO would be buying their RECs. So returning to the line from the website: "CleanChoice Energy purchases renewable electricity on behalf of our consumers in the form of grid power plus renewable energy certificates," that's the kind of REC they're talking about—a REC on this voluntary market. And compared to the compliance market, the RECs on the voluntary market in most cases sell for significantly less money.

Alex: Got you. So green ESCOs like CleanChoice are saying, for every kilowatt-hour you buy from the grid, we buy the equivalent amount of RECs. So if your bill is 100 kilowatt-hours, we'll buy 100 kilowatt-hours worth of RECs on the voluntary market.

Anna: Right.

Alex: Okay. So in the first scenario you described, that first REC market where different state utilities buy RECs from each other, that helps speed the transition to clean energy because it encourages generators to make more clean power because they get RECS that they can then sell.

Anna: But in this second REC market—the voluntary market—where the ESCOs are getting their RECs, it is not having that effect, according to Michael, our expert from the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute.

Michael Gillenwater: We kind of did a hypothetical case where we modeled the overall REC market in the US and, like, essentially, what you can do in a model, right, we just kind of removed the voluntary REC market as if it didn't exist, and then looked at would the electricity generation from wind and solar and stuff like that, would it look any different than it does now, if you just kind of magically made all these voluntary REC purchases disappear? And it didn't change at all.

Anna: And Michael says that's because the voluntary market is flooded with these RECs. There's way too many leftover RECs, and the prices of these leftover RECs are too low to serve as an incentive for a renewable developer to build more than they were going to otherwise, or produce more than they were going to otherwise. They're not taking the voluntary REC market into account, unlike the compliance market, which they do take into account as a revenue stream.

Michael Gillenwater: We and others have researched this topic, looking deep at the economics of this market, and have clearly shown unambiguously that it doesn't make a difference. It doesn't have any influence in what's the critical factors, how much wind power and solar power facilities, how many of those are built, how big they are and how much they operate.

Alex: I guess that makes sense. Like, if the entities that really need the RECs are these state utilities but they can't get the RECs they need from this voluntary market, I guess it would make sense that the prices wouldn't be that high on the voluntary market because, like, who else is gonna just go and randomly buy a REC?

Anna: Right. Like, there's no renewable portfolio standard for me personally. The thing that makes the compliance REC valuable is that utilities have a target to meet, and a limited amount of RECs to meet that target. If there was a target for individuals and, like, millions of New Yorkers had to buy RECs on the voluntary market, REC prices would go up. But so would our power bills.

Alex: So wait a minute. If you're buying your power from one of these clean energy ESCOs which, when you look at the historical data, can cost as much as twice or three times the standard utility rate, where is all that extra money going?

Anna: Some of it goes to the ESCO itself. Like the letter said, there's transmission capacity, ancillary services, RTO system fees and other factors, plus CleanChoice Energy operating costs, expenses and margins.

Alex: Right.

Anna: And then a little bit of it goes towards a clean electricity developer—a wind or a solar farm. The letter says that in New York, they've sourced RECs from New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia in the last year. And, like, that's something for them. It's money. Added revenue is nice. But Michael says that that money isn't significant enough to impact or influence their decisions on what they're actually going to build. It's just kind of like icing on the cake.

Alex: Okay. So green ESCOs on average cost more, sometimes a lot more.

Anna: Yes.

Alex: They are not seeming to have any kind of meaningful impact—or any impact at all—on transitioning us to a more renewable grid.

Anna: Right.

Alex: So is it just like a straight-up scam?

Anna: I'm gonna give you Michael's answer to that question, and then I'm gonna give you my answer to that question.

Alex: Okay.

Anna: Michael says he believes that there are many ESCOs that are well intentioned, and they're not just trying to, like, defraud people at the farmers' market.

Alex: Right.

Anna: But that their business model is not looking at the bigger picture of, you know, what the voluntary REC market is actually able to do. And that getting the people to understand this voluntary REC market has been a pretty slow education process.

Alex: Right. I mean, because it's so complicated and, like, there's this thing called a REC market, and it's all set up in statute and legal. Like, what they're doing is legal.

Anna: Right.

Alex: And presumably, you know, regulators put this system in place for a reason. And so if you're operating within the system as it was designed, I can see why you would say to yourself, "Well, we're just doing what they're telling us to do," basically.

Anna: Yeah. I mean, it is on the EPA's website. It's easy enough to say, "Huh, seems legit. The EPA said it's legit."

Alex: Right, right, right.

Anna: And in CleanChoice's case specifically, they told us they are also a solar developer, and they're currently helping to build solar farms. And they said in the future, they quote, "Envision that the renewable energy content from these solar projects could be sold to customers." But I will say that just from the letter alone, the marketing felt really misleading to me.

Alex: [laughs] Right!

Anna: The average person who reads this letter or getting that pitch at the movie theater, they might never even know that they're buying RECs.

Alex: I'd be willing to bet that people don't know. Like, if you ask 99 percent of the people who signed up for one of these renewable energy ESCOs, they would not know what a REC is.

Anna: I talked to six people who signed up for a renewable energy ESCO, and not a single one of them knew. So ...

Alex: Right.

Anna: I mean, it's kind of buried deep in the fine print and deep into the website. And I understand that complicated ineffective market mechanisms don't sell stuff to people, but I also feel like there was stuff in the fine print that should be in the main print.

Alex: I think it's a pretty good rule of thumb, which is like, if a piece of mail comes to your house from somebody you don't know with a cellophane window on it asking you to do something, don't do it. [laughs]

Anna: I would agree with that.

Alex: I feel like that's a good rule of thumb. Okay, so the takeaway to your original question seems to be: if you're a renter and you can't put up solar panels on your house, this isn't a way for you to get clean electricity. It is, in fact, too good to be true.

Anna: It is.

Alex: Is there something that people in your position can do? Something else?

Anna: So depending on what state you live in, there's something called community solar, which we're gonna talk about in a future episode.

Alex: Mm!

Anna: But right now, the best way to support getting new renewables on your grid is by supporting a federal clean electricity standard.

Alex: A clean electricity standard. This is something that we've talked about on this podcast before—just a couple weeks ago, in fact. It's a mandate to get a certain percent of all of the nation's power from zero-carbon sources.

Anna: Right. And as we mentioned above, lots of states have these standards already. And the Biden administration is proposing to set a clean electricity standard for the whole country.

Alex: And essentially, this would make your worry moot, Anna. Like, you wouldn't have to worry about how to make your electricity in particular cleaner, because the goal of a national standard is to make everyone's electricity cleaner over the next couple of decades, no matter which ESCO or utility you use.

Anna: I don't have to buy a house.

Alex: It's all part of Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan, this big infrastructure package which is being negotiated right now, right now in Congress. And one target being floated would require the US to reach 80 percent clean power by 2030, with the goal of getting to fully 100 percent clean power at some point after that. We talked about this in our recent episode, "Is Biden's Jobs Plan a 'Skinny Green New Deal?'"

Anna: And because this package is being negotiated right here, right now, right this second, that means that our call to action for you this week is to once again call your representative and tell them you want to see a federal clean electricity standard in this jobs plan.

Alex: I know. Call your representative. It sounds scary. I feel the same way, but Ayana and I, we actually modeled how simple and, dare I say fun, it actually is to do. We actually made calls to our representatives and we recorded them. And then some of you actually called your reps and told us about it! Here's a few voice memos that you guys sent us.

Erin: Hi, Ayana and Alex. This is Erin from Burien, Washington, calling to say I did your climate action for this week. I called my three congresswomen about the American Jobs Plan, and was specific. And I did it right after listening to the podcast episode. I was out in my garden listening to the episode, and I called from my garden with my dogs playing in the background. So thanks so much for making that the action for this week. I'm really glad I did it.

Alex: Yeah, see? You can just like literally while you're out gardening with your pets, you can make the call. Let's hear another one.

Gia: Whew, guys, that was nerve-wracking! I just called my representative, and I called both my senators. My name's Gia, by the way. I live in California, so I called Feinstein. Her mailbox was full. I called Senator Padilla, and I called my representative in Los Angeles where I live. And yeah, I felt like a dork doing it, and they probably could tell I was reading from a script I wrote. But I feel a lot better now that I've done it, and I sent my script to my family members, some of who live in other states, and I'm hoping they'll do the same. So thanks for making it easier, and for sharing my awkward fear of calling elected officials, because I don't know, they're scary. Anyways, bye!

Alex: [laughs] I know! They feel scary, but they're not. That's actually the lesson of all this. So if you were feeling a little phone shy last time, hopefully this gives you a little boost of, like, we're all in it together, some can-do spirit.

Anna: And if you want to tell us how it went, encourage fellow phone shy listeners, you can contact us through our listener mail form at howtosaveaplanet.show/contact, or dare I say, share it on social media, @how2saveaplanet with a 2 on Twitter and Instagram.

Alex: And with that ...

Anna: Some credits.

Alex: Do you want to do them?

Anna: I sure do.

Alex: Take it away.

Anna: It starts with you.

Alex: Oh. How to Save a Planet is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. It's hosted by me, Alex Blumberg, and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. And today by you, Anna Ladd.

Anna: Our reporters and producers are Kendra Pierre-Louis and Rachel Waldholz. Our intern is Ayo Oti.

Alex: Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney.

Anna: Sound design and mixing by Peter Leonard and Enoch Kim, with original music by Emma Munger, Peter Leonard, and Catherine Anderson. Special thanks to David Roberts, Grace Pozniak, Mark Davis, and Ben Stocker.

Alex: Our fact checker this episode is Angely Mercado. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week!

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