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In less than 10 minutes I bought a half-kilowatt of solar energy

CNET | Andrew Blok | Nov 17, 2021

consumers purchase solar energy - In less than 10 minutes I bought a half-kilowatt of solar energyLike me, you might be able to buy solar energy from your utility.

Solar panels are out of financial reach for a lot of people. Solar energy, however, is more accessible. So, after writing about how relatively easy it is to claim renewable energy for your own personal use, I set out to get some solar power for myself.

It took about 10 minutes and cost me $9, and it's likely just as easy for you.

Utilities often offer green power pricing programs in which their customers can pay a bit of a premium to buy renewable energy. It's a relatively simple way to satisfy your desire to use renewable energy. At least 1 million utility customers bought renewable energy this way in 2020. Not all renewable energy is created the same, though, and it's worth a bit of digging to make sure your purchase is making a difference.

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To be fair, I did my digging after the fact.

Buying solar power was quick and easy

I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my electric provider is Consumers Energy. I knew it had renewable energy programs and, from my recent reporting, had a pretty good idea of how they were likely to work. So I headed to its website.

It took me four clicks to get to a subscription form for a program called Solar Gardens. Solar Gardens allows customers like me to subscribe to solar panels that Consumers Energy has built in Michigan.

For an extra (yes, extra) $9 each month on my bill, I could subscribe to half of a kilowatt of solar production. I would get a credit of about $4 back for the energy my portion of the array produced -- and for the satisfaction of using solar energy.

Consumers Energy would also retire the renewable energy certificates on my behalf, which means I rightly get to say I used that energy. (I double-checked this with Consumers. The utility said that I get to claim the environmental benefits of the solar energy I'm paying for and that this energy doesn't cover its own renewable energy obligations under Michigan law.)

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Solar production varies based on how much the sun shines. I bought a half-kilowatt block, which Consumers Energy told me is expected, on average, to generate about 750 kilowatt hours a year.

Consumers Energy says the average household would need 10 or 12 of the blocks to offset their annual energy cost. I use a lot less energy than the average household. Over the past 12 months, I used 4,376 kilowatt hours, so I would only need to buy six blocks to completely offset my energy use.

Next, I entered contact information and my service address. I certified that I was the account holder and that I had read the terms and conditions. (Truth: I had not.)

And that was it. I had bought some solar energy.

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