May 4, 2007

Fools or Liars: the sham of "100% wind"

They are either fooling themselves or lying to their customers. Hardly a week goes by without another prominent company announcing that it is suddenly "100% wind powered." Some of the companies that make the transparently ridiculous claim are Frontier Co-op and its divisions Simply Organic and Aura Cacia ("we're 100% green powered"), Tom's of Maine ("100% of our electricity consumption is powered by wind energy"), Aveda ("manufacturing with 100% certified windpower"), and Co-op America.

Like every otherwise socially conscious event, politician, and rock band that is also playing this game, all of these companies are getting the same electricity -- and paying for it -- as before. They are not buying wind energy. They are buying "renewable energy credits" (RECs), or "green tags," in addition to their regular electricity.

RECs are only the environmental packaging of the desired power. They were invented by Enron so they could sell the same energy twice. Just as they helped enrich that famously corrupt company, RECs still provide substantial gravy on a scheme for moving public funds into private bank accounts that rivals Halliburton's purchase of the U.S. presidency to start its own wars.

The fact is that RECs are free money for the likes of General Electric (the purchaser of Enron Wind), Florida Power & Light, Babcock & Brown, J.P. Morgan Chase, British Petroleum, Shell Oil, and other energy and investment giants. Not only is three-quarters of the capital costs of a wind energy facility paid for by taxpayers, not only do governments force utilities to by it, but otherwise socially and environmentally conscious people willingly give the companies even more to offset their guilt for using electricity.

They still use all that electricity, of course, but somehow they convince themselves and their customers that buying certificates for their walls is the same as not using all that electricity, or as using someone else's electricity (which that someone else pays for and uses, too).

Like the whole idea of "offsets" that allow consumers to continue consuming the same as ever -- like medieval indulgences to allow sin and enrich the church -- RECs are an obvious fraud. But when they support wind energy, they are also irresponsible.

Not only is wind energy of doubtful value in reducing the use of other fuels, it represents a massive industrialization of rural and wild places -- a heedless destruction of landscapes, the environment, and animals' (including peoples') lives. All for very little, if any, measurable benefit.

Not only are they wrong to claim they are "wind powered," industrial wind energy is incompatible with the social and environmental values that these companies claim and otherwise commendably put into practice. Let them know:
Frontier Co-op (Simply Organic, Aura Cacia), 1-800-669-3275

Tom's of Maine
Susan Dewhirst, Media & Public Relations Leader, 1-800-367-8667

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