Divest Thyself

Our shirts bore the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” We self-identified as students, economists, lawyers, teachers, millennials, health care workers, and small biz owners (me). And we rallied together before a public hearing on a bill that, if passed, would stop MD’s Montgomery County from investing in fossil fuels.

Representing Solar Mowing at a Dec 6, 2016, rally and County Council hearing on fossil fuel divestment.

Representing Solar Mowing at a Dec 6, 2016, rally and County Council hearing on fossil fuel divestment.

A local grassroots group, 350moco.org, along with three County Council members, who co-sponsored the measure worked hard to get to this point.

They weren’t the first to pursue such a goal: Georgetown University, the Guardian Media Group, the cities of Minneapolis and the District of Columbia, the World Council of Churches, and hundreds of other institutions have divested from oil, coal, and gas. (Complete list here.)

The arguments for doing so basically come down to 1) It’s a tad crazy “…to invest in companies that undermine our future” (Desmond Tutu again), and 2) Investing in fossil fuels makes about as much economical sense as investing in the animal fur industry. That’s because much of the world’s reserves of coal, oil, and gas cannot be burned if the Earth is to stay within a 2-degree C. increase, a target agreed upon by the United States and nearly every other country on Earth. Fossil fuel investments, in other words, are considered by many economists to be “stranded assets.”

But like peace, divestment begins at home. If we’re asking our local governments, schools, churches, and other institutions to divest, we best be ready to do it ourselves. Luckily, it ain’t that hard.

If you live in an area with energy choice, choose renewables. Everyone in MD, VA, and DC has energy choice, and many other states offer it, too. (Here’s a state-by-state list.) Making the switch is fast and easy; you’ll continue using the same utility wires, and you’ll continue to receive just one electric bill. There’s no penalty for switching, but you will likely pay more for clean energy than you did for dirty. (In 2012, my 100% wind power electric bill cost $120 more than non-renewable energy would’ve cost me for that year.)

For residential renewable energy options in MD, VA, or DC, check out WGL Energy or CleanChoice Energy.

Natural gas is a little trickier. Most of the gas we use for cooking and heating comes from fracking, and alternatives aren’t readily available. But in the DC metro area, Baltimore, and PA, you can purchase carbon offsets. (The cost will vary depending on your usage.) To learn more and sign up, click here. Gas suppliers in other states also offer offsets; give your provider a jingle.

Lastly, find out if your mutual funds and 401(k) invest in fossil fuel stocks. You can do that and search for fossil free funds and socially responsible funds here.

Oh! And, of course, divest yourself from gas-powered lawn care companies!

It feels good to get clean … energy. Go tell it on the non-mined mountaintop: Divest Thyself.






Waking Up to No Wind Energy

It was a punch to the gut — the email on January 31, 2014, from Clean Currents, my wind energy provider, stating that “effective immediately,” we would be “returned to utility service,” which in my case means coal — as it does throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic.

We’ve purchased wind energy for our home for the past six years. Not only does my business rely on this wind energy to supplement the solar energy collected by my trucks’ panels, but I have grown to feel that it is my right to buy renewable energy. Thinking that it might be taken away made me feel, weirdly, violated.

Just two weeks earlier, toxic chemicals used at coal plants spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River, poisoning the water supply of hundreds of thousands — the latest in a string of coal/oil/natural gas-related calamities. I didn’t want to go back to fossil fuels.

EElogoAs it turned out, I didn’t have to. Within hours, I knew I had other wind options, and in a matter of days, I had signed up with Chevy Chase-based Ethical Electric. (Check out their rates, but here are other local options: Washington Gas Energy Services [highly reputable affiliate of Washington Gas] and Groundswell [offers collective purchase of clean energy].)

WGESLogoAnd don’t think buying renewables is risky business that could leave you powerless. Wind customers still receive their electricity through PEPCO, BGE, or whatever local utility is in the area — and like with the Clean Currents situation, you’d be covered. The problem was that Clean Currents, a relatively small company with less-than-cavernous pockets, couldn’t cover the hugely inflated prices during last winter’s polar vortex. Likewise, smaller coal-fired power companies went offline.

GroundswellLogoThe beauty of all this: We have a choice. Deregulation throughout the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere has opened up the energy market to competitive — and renewable — suppliers.

Choose wisely, friends.