March 12, 2007

Frontier Natural Foods buys "green tags" not green energy

To the people of Frontier Natural Foods Co-op:

I was saddened to read that Frontier -- where I buy several essential oils, not to mention the bulk herbs and teas from my local food co-op -- has jumped on to the "green tag" fad. While supporting the expansion of renewable energy sources is good to do, it is a quite a leap to claim that you are "converted to 100% green power" or even that you have "offset" your power use with credits for renewable energy used elsewhere.

As your web site states, "Frontier buys its green power, sold to us as renewable energy credits, through Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF)."

Despite BEF's claim, renewable energy credits (RECs) are not green power, since the actual energy is sold separately from the credits. The credits are only tokens. This was a scheme invented by Enron to make their wind energy facilities in California more profitable. They magically separated the "environmental attributes" of the energy source as a separate product. After selling the energy into the grid, they could then sell it again as green tags.

It would be like Frontier selling empty tea bags to people who have access only to Lipton and Red Rose teas. They could say they are offsetting their use of nonorganic tea, but obviously they are not.

It is impossible for two customers to enjoy the benefits of the same energy. Your purchase of a kilowatt-hour of green tags is in addition to another customer's purchase of the same kilowatt-hour of the actual energy. The purchase of green tags only makes renewable energy more profitable. That's a fair enough goal, but it does not change anybody's energy use. The green power is generated and used with or without your purchase of its RECs.

A true statement would be, "Frontier donates x dollars for every y units of its energy use to encourage the development of renewable energy."

Further, the assumption of one-to-one offset is quite debatable. Especially with an intermittent and highly variable source such as wind power, it is doubtful that it reduces fuel use or emissions at other plants to a degree anywhere near the amount of energy it generates.

This is because even as other plants are required to reduce their generation in response to wind, they either have to stay warm to be ready to kick in again when the wind drops or they use more fuel because of more frequent restarts. In either case, they are forced to run less efficiently, with the resulting extra emissions canceling out much of the theoretical benefits from wind on the system.

Despite BEF's claim that buying green tags is the same as buying green power and replaces fossil fuel generators, no fossil fuel generator has ever been shut down or even used significantly less because of wind energy on the system -- not even in Denmark. (I can only speak authoritatively about large-scale wind, which I have been studying for over 4 years now.)

Besides the green tokenism of RECs, and the elusive benefits, large-scale wind energy is not environmentally friendly. It threatens birds and bats, requires huge areas of clearance (as well as wide strong roads and transmission rights of way), and disrupts the lives of humans and other animals with noise and visual distraction. At this scale, it is not green. The major players are multinational energy conglomerates who are as heedlessly predatory in this area as in the rest of their business. (A recent story at Tierramérica described the exploitation of the Oaxacans on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as the disregard of the fact that it is the most important bird flyway in the hemisphere, by the Mexican government, the Spanish Iberdrola company, and others.)

I urge you to read more at the web site of National Wind Watch, a coalition of groups and individuals formed in 2005 to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial wind power: . I would like to suggest as well, which features the paper "A Problem With Wind Power."

I ask you: first, to assess the reality of green tags beyond their simplistic sales pitch; and second, to consider that support of industrial-scale wind power is incompatible with ecological values.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights