November 4, 2006

The 'green' energy credits that aren't

Bill Virgin wrote in the October 5 Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Wells Fargo & Co. announced this week that it is buying renewable energy certificates for 550 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy a year for three years. ...

But the buyers of those credits aren't actually reducing their electrical consumption from the local utilities who serve their offices, power that could come from coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydro, or even wind -- not through these transactions, anyway.

So what exactly do these transactions contribute -- beyond burnishing a company's environmental reputation?

The answer, not surprisingly, is that they provide a nice subsidy.

"What renewable energy credits do is provide a second revenue stream for wind developers," a Wells Fargo spokeswoman says. "It encourages development of more wind power" since it "becomes more profitable for them to do so. It pushes the market." ...

But what about the supposed environmental benefits to the energy-credit program? Wells Fargo says its purchase of wind credits will offset 40 percent of its electrical consumption and prevent the emission of 380,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

But if Wells Fargo isn't actually cutting its consumption of power, and the credits represent power that someone else has already bought (and would have whether or not someone acquired the credits), it's an incredible stretch to argue that the purchase of credits represents a reduction in emissions. Not one less lump of coal or cubic foot of gas will be burned because of this. The only heat generated is the warm-and-fuzzy feeling the buyer of credits hopes everyone gets from the publicity. [emphasis added]

wind power, wind energy, green tags, environment, environmentalism