A Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality for Households and Small Organizations
by Daniel C Reuman
Climate change is one of the biggest problems of our age – it affects all our kids’ futures. Unfortunately, it can also seem like an impossible problem. How can we do anything meaningful about climate change if the world’s governments are making so little progress? Well, it turns out that a typical household in the Lawrence area can go completely carbon neutral – yes, completely – for $100-200 per year. That’s less than your daily coffee. This article will give you step-by-step instructions on how to do it. It does not even take much effort or time. These steps will also work for small organizations such as small businesses, schools, and places of worship.
Step 1a – if you live in the Evergy area: Sign up for Westar Wind. For an additional cost of typically just a few dollars a month on your electric bill (for a household – possibly more or less depending on the size of your electric bill, but always a very small fraction of the bill itself), you can sign up for an Evergy program called Westar Wind that will effectively make it so that 100% of your electricity comes from renewable sources, and is carbon neutral.
When Evergy generates renewable energy, an independent agency tracks this and issues them Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) according to how much they generate. If you sign up for Westar Wind, you get your energy from Evergy by buying their RECs from them. Because RECs are tied directly to renewables, and are regulated, signing up pushes the economics so that Evergy will build more renewables. Brandon Sack, the Clean Energy Development Manager at Westar, informed me that Evergy definitely does use the number of people signed up for Westar Wind to make decisions about future energy projects. This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint!
Here is what you do if you like the internet:
- Go to https://www.evergy.com/
- Put in your username and password for your Evergy account and log in
- Under Smart Energy->Renewable Resources, click “Subscription programs”
- Under “What are my options with wind” click “Sign up today” (Note there are also solar options you may want to consider – I have not looked into these)
- Read the text and select the percent of your energy use you want to cause to come from renewables – we recommend 100%
- Click the box recognizing the (typically very small) additional charge
- Done! Your electrical is now from carbon neutral renewables!
Here is what you do if you don’t like the internet:
- Call 800 383 1183
- Ask them to sign you up for their wind program (used to be called Westar Wind when Evergy was Westar)
Step 1b – only if you do NOT live in the Evergy area. You can buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) directly. Even if these are not provided by your electrical supplier, they still function to make your electrical usage come effectively from renewable sources.
You start by getting your usage data from your power company. This will vary by company, but you can usually download it from the website of the company, after logging in. You can also add up the information provided on your monthly bills. You are looking for energy usage figures, usually in kWh.
Then you buy RECs directly in an amount that matches your electrical usage. For instance from here: http://https://store.b-e-f.org/household/. At time of writing this, these were priced at $8 per megawatt hour, so they are not too expensive.
You can also sign up for Arcadia Power (https://www.arcadiapower.com/). They will make it convenient, and tied to your electrical usage, so you don’t have to calculate your own usage and buy the corresponding number of RECs.
Step 2: Calculate your family’s or organization’s total carbon footprint. This will tell you the number of tons of carbon released into the atmosphere due to your activities. There are many carbon footprint calculators online, but here is an easy and good one: https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint- calculator/. You will need to know or estimate information like your annual electrical and gas usage (though if you sign up for Westar Wind or bought RECs for your electrical usage first, the electrical is effectively 0), and annual miles driven and the mileage of your car(s). Convert from lbs to metric tons by dividing by 2205. Also, add to the final result from the EPA calculator your CO2 from flights, which can be substantial: 1) add up the numbers of hours spent flying last year by all the members of your household; 2) multiply by 1⁄4; 3) that is the number of metric tons CO2 emitted as a result of your flying. Get your total carbon footprint in metric tons.
Step 3: Purchase carbon offsets to offset your carbon. The idea behind carbon offsets is, it can be extremely hard for a family or an organization to stop emitting carbon completely, but as an excellent first step we can pay for other programs that prevent the release of an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases. For instance, landfills emit methane which can be captured – this helps the fight against climate change, and is much easier than, say, giving up your car. You can pay for someone to capture methane instead of giving up your car, for the same positive impact toward a solution to climate change, but less personal sacrifice. The goal is still to eventually get to a carbon neutral economy, but offsets allow the invisible hand of the market to find the easiest and cheapest first steps to this goal. There are many carbon offset programs available online, and I invite you to do as much research as you like to choose your own, but in case your time is limited (and whose isn’t) I recommend BEF, a nonprofit that sells a variety of carbon offsets (https://store.b-e-f.org/household/). Or one of the offset programs here: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/offset.aspx?o=10. After signing up for Westar Wind, it costs a “typical” household $50-150 to offset the rest of household emissions for the entire year! Make sure you sign up for Westar Wind before buying carbon offsets, as it is cheaper to get your electrical energy from renewables in the first place than it is to get it from coal and then offset the carbon that coal produced.
Step 4: Talk about whatever steps you took with your friends and relatives! Perhaps the biggest problem with climate change is we are not talking about it much in our local communities and networks. We are like ostriches with our heads in the sand. Tell people what you did, how much it cost, how easy it was, how it made you feel, and get them onboard! In 40 years, do you want to tell your kids and grandkids you stood by while climate change took place, or do you want to tell them you have been carbon neutral since 2019 and have been getting others to do the same? Please consider giving both the environment and your kids a present by taking one or more of the above steps toward carbon neutrality.
Additional resources: What is a REC: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_Energy_Certificate_(United_States)
More on carbon offsets: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_offset
Information sheet to help with carbon footprint calculation
Getting data on electrical usage from Westar:
- Go to https://www.evergy.com/ 2. Put in your username and password for your Evergy account and log in 3. Click the large oval blue button at left that says “My Energy” or “My Energy Dashboard” 4. Under “Electric Usage” click “Details” 5. Under the “My Usage Details” panel click “1 year” 6. Scroll down and find the green circular button that says “Download my data” next to it, but
don’t click it. Instead click the button next to it for a csv. 7. Open the resulting csv file with a spreadsheet program, look at the total column 8. Compute the average for 12 months – this should be average monthly kWh usage over the past year.
Getting data on gas usage from black hills:
- Go to https://www.blackhillsenergy.com 2. Log in (button at top) 3. Click the “Go to billing”, the “History” 4. Scroll down and click “Export billing data” 5. Enter dates for a recent 12-month period 6. Ask for excel format 7. Click “Download” and save the file 8. Open the resulting file and look at the “Usage” column, which should be in units of Therms 9. Compute your monthly average usage
- Estimate the number of hours spent flying last year for each member of your household, and
add them all up 2. Multiply by 1⁄4 3. That is the number of metric tons CO2 emitted as a result of your flights
- The EPA calculator we use gives lbs CO2 for home energy usage, cars, and waste, but the flight
calculation above gives a result in metric tons. We want the result in metric tons. 2. So convert the EPA number to metric tons using the fact that 2205lbs is one metric ton 3. Then add the flight number from above 4. That’s your household carbon footprint