Photo by Marc Lostracco.
In upcoming months, Toronto’s summer temperatures will once again strain the power grid, and the demand for more power means more power generation—and consequently, more pollution. For Ontario customers wishing to utilize renewable energy sources, there are currently only two options: expensively retrofit your property to generate some of its own electricity, or sign up with Bullfrog Power. For many condo owners and apartment dwellers, neither of those options have been viable.
Bullfrog is currently Ontario’s only “green” energy retailer, providing electricity sourced locally from renewable and emissions-free techniques, like low-impact water generation (80%), and wind turbines (20%). They don’t actually deliver this clean power directly to your home, but inject it into the existing grid proportionate to each customer’s use. Customers continue to draw from the grid as usual, and Bullfrog’s billing system piggybacks on the existing utility provider.
This has been the problem for many potential high-rise customers—either utilities are included in rent, or existing bulk metering contracts weren’t compatible with Bullfrog, and residents don’t often have a choice in electricity retailers. As of the end of April, Bullfrog has finally been offering service to all Ontarians via a credit system, where those who can’t be directly metered by Bullfrog can estimate their usage, and be invoiced accordingly in addition to their existing electrical bill. Consumers can also adjust this amount online for each billing period to more accurately reflect their actual usage.
Switching to green power isn’t cheap, however, and price is undoubtedly the most significant barrier to adoption. For those signing up on this system (which can be done immediately and online), Bullfrog provides estimates based on square footage (screenshot, right). The EcoLogo-certified electricity is priced at a 3.5¢ premium per kilowatt hour (kWh), which means that a switch to Bullfrog will add about 20%–30% to your bill. For comparison, a one-bedroom apartment using about 375 kWh monthly will add about $13 to the traditional cost, but a detached home (using 1,500 kWh/month) would get dinged about $50 more.
Much of the premium comes from the higher costs of green power generation, as well as the investment in new renewable power technologies. Bullfrog is actually a reseller—it buys and invests in renewable energy from multiple sources—and while the higher cost is undoubtedly a turn-off to some, the company has managed to persuade 600 businesses and 6,000 homeowners in Ontario to make the switch. Bullfrog is a for-profit company, obviously, but eco-conscious consumers seem to be responding positively, based on principle alone.
Still, 6,000 residential customers in a province of 4.5 million households is only a drop in the bucket, and less than 3% of power flowing into the power grid is from clean, renewable sources. 39% of the power we use now comes from nuclear plants, and 37% is derived from coal, oil, and gas generation. Most of the energy in Bullfrog’s mix is from low-impact hydro, which are usually smallish dam facilities operating with minimal environmental impact. Other sources of renewable energy, like solar and biofuel, are currently too expensive to offer without large government subsidies.
Some of the most significant impact comes from the potential corporate market, which can also help drive the need to commission new wind turbines in the Bruce Peninsula, for example. Wal-Mart, RBC, BMO, Cadbury, and Lululemon are some of the companies that are offsetting some of their electricity-related emissions with Bullfrog, and the Toronto-based company boasts high-profile residential customers like Margaret Atwood, Jamie Kennedy, Bob Rae, Gord Downie, and Mark Cullen.
With condo and apartment residents finally covered, and 60% of Canadians saying they’d prefer to use electricity from renewable sources, accessing green power for the home doesn’t seem as difficult anymore. Without the subsidies and infrastructure enjoyed by nuclear, coal, and high-volume hydro plants, renewable energy remains significantly more costly, but it’s tough to argue against an extra fifteen bucks when many of us spend more than $50 each month on our morning coffee.