The Fallacy of Renewable Energy Credits

We’d all like to get “off the grid,” but most businesses and residents in the San Fernando Valley are married to the DWP for our electrical power, and many of us don’t have the financial resources to invest in our own personal solar generating systems.

Have no fear, renewable energy credits are here!

With this scheme, one first determines, through the use of a simple computer program, your “carbon footprint” or how much pollution you are spewing into the atmosphere. Based on the calculations, you can then purchase “renewable energy credits” from a broker like Manhattan Beach-based 3 Phases Renewables to become “carbon neutral.”

In effect, RECs, also known as "green tags" or "renewable energy certificates," subsidize renewable energy producers.

One REC represents one megawatt hour of emissions-free electricity (the average person in the US each year consumes more than 12 megawatt hours of electricity). Though the purchaser of the credit doesn't actually use the electricity themselves, the clean power is fed into the electric utility grid somewhere in the world where it is used by others. It’s a way of compensating for the environmental impacts of consuming un-green electricity.

But while this may have an effect on the environment somewhere, it doesn’t have the same local effect as when you and I cut back on our personal energy expenditures, be it electricity or gas.

Thinking globally is nice, but acting locally is the only way to make a real difference for your friends, family and neighbors.

~Linda Coburn

3 Comment!:

G said...

Hi Linda,

Don't you think that it is better to have the option of RECs available to individuals and organizations who do not have the option of "greening" their energy usage in other ways? For example, many individuals and companies do not have the ability for direct access to green energy through the grid and therefore have to resort to using RECs in order to offset their carbon emissions. Why take away individuals' ability to offset their carbon emissions from, say, a flight from LA to NYC? The effort should be applauded in my opinion.

While I agree with your point that sustainability starts with the local community, I would add that a greener future is more tangible if we encourage each other to do the right thing. While RECs are certainly not the only answer out there, they at least help to build environmental awareness in individuals who may not have otherwise considered their "carbon footprints."

Don't you agree?

Also, 3 Phases Renewables is a company that is simply trying to provide a solution to those individuals trying to make a difference. It should also be highlighted that selling RECs is not the only thing the company does. As can be seen here:, RECs are but one of the MANY services 3 Phases Renewables provides.

LCinLA said...

Hi, G: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. While RECs are an interesting idea, my point was more that there ARE lots of things that people can do in their own lives that have more impact locally, such as simply turning off the lights, using CFL's, driving less, taking the bus, recycling, etc. Same goes for businesses.

I worry that people will buy a bunch of RECs because that's easy, and choose NOT do the hard stuff that we all need to do in the long run. Even dear Al Gore was found to have a HUGE carbon footprint at his personal compound. Tsk, tsk...

BTW, I talked with folks from 3 Phases at the 2007 Alt Car Expo and it's true they're doing lots of good stuff. I'm not knocking them at all (I even put in a link to the site.)

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