Innovators & Disruptors: Green Power

Ethical Electric founder helps consumers seamlessly reduce their carbon footprint.

Tom Mattzie

Tom Matzzie at his Georgetown office. (Photo by Jay Snap)

Eco-buzzwords like “sustainable,” “green,” and “solar” are now ingrained in the collective consciousness of Americans, but only a relatively small group of individuals have actually heeded the environment’s call. Enter Tom Matzzie, who decided it wasn’t enough to just reduce his own carbon footprint and subsequently created an easy way for average Americans to choose renewable energy in place of harmful fossil fuels. Matzzie stresses that the decision to make the switch is simple: “No credit check, no second bill, no home visit, no installation.” His brainchild, Ethical Electric, now serves tens of thousands of energy-conscious consumers in seven states and in the national capital region— D.C. and Maryland, but not Virginia, because its state legislature does not allow residents or businesses to choose their source of electricity.

WHAT IS YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH TO SOMEONE OFF THE STREET WHO HAS NO IDEA WHERE THEIR ENERGY COMES FROM?

Ethical Electric makes renewable energy easy to purchase for consumers by offering it as a service through their utility. When a customer enrolls with our company we coordinate with the electricity markets, wind farm owners and their utility to offer them renewable energy.

HOW DID THE COMPANY COME TO BE?

The insight for the company was my experience going solar in my home here in Washington, and I describe that process as awesome but difficult. It was awesome because I was very excited to have solar in my home — I encourage everyone to try it. It was difficult because I still realize you have to have a house (it wouldn’t work if you lived in an apartment), the roof has to be oriented in the right direction, you have to have the right roof material and it couldn’t be shaded by a tree. My insight was that if we could offer this as a service and not a home improvement project, it would be easier for more people to participate. That was the spark to start the company.

SO, GOING GREEN AT HOME WAS A PERSONAL DECISION- EXPLAIN THE THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND THAT.

I wanted solar for my own home. I’m a fervent believer in renewable energy and an opponent of climate change and I want to see solutions to catastrophic climate change so I was very motivated to go solar. Also, I grew up in Pittsburgh and I’ve seen the devastation fossil fuels can create on different communities.

WHERE DOES ETHICAL ELECTRIC SOURCE ENERGY FROM?

There are dozens of wind farms mostly in western Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and New York. We have a commodity trading part of our business that transacts for the renewable energy from those facilities.

HOW DOES THE ENERGY GET FROM THERE TO MY DOORSTEP?

It is much like banking. When you put your money into a bank, you don’t actually take it out. Electricity is similar. The electricity providers and generators put all their energy into the same pool, but through contracts you’re able to withdraw the electricity that the wind farm put into the pool at a distant location. And what’s really happening is not that the electricity in your home is somehow different. What’s happened is that when you pay your power bill, your money is now going to support the wind farm and not support coal power.

IS IT A COST EFFECTIVE METHOD FOR CUSTOMERS?

We definitively sell at a premium to the utility rate and the markets we operate in renewable electricity are still expensive. There are ways you can save money with renewable electricity, but it requires the customer to make a 20-year commitment. For our customers who don’t want to, it is still more expensive than the utility rate … The premium really depends on the customer’s home, weather, efficiency of the home and other factors. For a D.C. apartment-dweller it may cost $12 more a month; for a medium-large house it could cost $30 more a month.

A CUSTOMER NEEDS TO HAVE PERSONAL DRIVE TO WANT TO REDUCE THEIR CARBON FOOTPRINT?

Yes, that’s our customer base: people who care about renewable energy because they care about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions.

HOW DO YOU FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN MAKING A PROFIT AND CONTINUING TO HAVE THAT POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT?

What we found is that it’s a virtuous cycle. Our customers really want us to focus on impact and we win their loyalty by demonstrating to them the impact they’ve had on the environment.

This story appeared in the April 2016 issue of Washington Life. 

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