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Hey all you solar-powered conservationists out there: I’ve got bad news for you. If you want to save energy (and save a buck), you probably have to waste paper in the process.

Why’s that? If you have solar panels on your roof, and those panels produce more energy than you consume at a given time, your electricity meter will run backwards, and you’ll be contributing electricity to the grid for your neighbors to use. The electricity you’re adding to the grid will be subtracted from your monthly Pepco bill.

If, over the course of a month, you actually produce more electricity than you use, you get a credit from Pepco that will be deducted from your next month’s bill. (The net-metering rule enacted by the D.C. Council prohibits cash payments to net-negative consumers.) But you only get the credit if you receive paper bills. If you’ve opted to go paperless and receive your bills online, you’re out of luck.

“If a customer generates more than they use, so they have a surplus, they do get a credit,” says Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal. “That is a manual process at this point, so it does have to be a paper bill. Our online system does not have the capability right now to deal with customers who are generating more than they’re using.”

“They actually have to manually adjust the bill and manually assign the credit,” explains Anya Schoolman of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop. “So the reason you need the paper bill is that it’s in fact humans that are doing this.”

Beal says that Pepco is currently working on an upgrade to its system that will allow credits to carry over for paperless customers. For now, though, if you want to conserve both energy and money, you’ll have to sacrifice some trees.

Solar panel image from Shutterstock