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Does the wind blow in Austin?

Does the wind blow in Austin?

Renewable energy credits (RECs) are probably one of the most misunderstood forms of emissions reduction. They allow a green and very high minded company like New Belgium brewery (the makers of Fat Tire Ale) to brew in Colorado – one of the most coal dependent states – and yet claim a reduced carbon footprint, by purchasing wind power from other areas of the country. The wind power isn’t actually piped into their brewing facility, however…they’re buying the “rights” to the green claims of that wind power, which is then used as generic power by a utility elsewhere. Colorado isn’t ideal for either wind or solar, and building transmission lines to move the power isn’t feasible (yet). New Belgium basically pays the wind premium, so that a customer somewhere else doesn’t have to. To ensure that this works, the process is usually certified by a third party NGO such as Green-e or the Gold Standard. ClimatePath offers a Green-e wind project in North Dakota as well as a Gold Standard one in Turkey that allow individuals to tax deductibly donate towards greening their energy and travel using the same principles.

So it was interesting to see this week that Austin’s green energy program has become somewhat of a trainwreck. The Austin statesman reported: “It now costs almost three times more than the standard electricity rate.” Generally, wind credits should cost no more than a penny or so extra per kilowatt-hour, so the rapid escalation is alarming. Austin’s energy sin? They’re trying to produce and consume the actual green energy, creating problems with energy transmission as well as a big challenge in matching supply and demand. At the same time, the wind energy is all part of the grid anyway, so the green buyers get the same electricity as everyone else.

The idea of cap and trade is to avoid these issues by encouraging the production of renewable energy where it is most efficient, and also encouraging conservation-based reduction where it is best done. Already in California, Pacific Gas and Electric will sell you electricity that is 47% natural gas and coal, but offer you “greener energy” by supporting Redwood forests. And in the Northeast, power companies bid for the right to emit at an auction, with the proceeds funding efforts to reduce emissions.

Is cap and trade solving a global problem in the smartest way possible? Or letting ‘problem emitters’ off the hook? It may be a little of both, but while I love Austin’s intentions, I am not sure it matters if the windmills are built in West Texas or North Dakota. What matters is a cleaner overall energy mix, with the true cost of electricity built in.

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Photo copyright JMonkeyQ at flickr.com

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8 comments

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9:22PM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

9:21PM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

9:21PM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

9:20PM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Interesting, thank you.

10:06PM PDT on Jul 15, 2009

Very interesting article, as I've wondered why we don't hear more about wind power, and it's possibilities. There are a few states that are prime sites for wind turbines, that could produce a lot of local, ie: US energy. They really need to put more effort into this type of energy production, then work out the details of either how to carry the power to different areas, or use the green credits ideas. We surely have to start looking at something soon, or we will never be oil independent.

Lync

4:37PM PDT on Jul 15, 2009

Hmmm, the wind in free vs the coal must be mined and burned first. Seems to me cost should actually be less to the consumer once it is in place. Once implementation is complete cost should go down. However, in the interest of keeping the market level, shouldn't coal and gas companies be the implementation device. I have no problem with new companies coming online but the constant passing of the buck to the consumer needs an overhaul. Other manipulations for credits for this or that just seems like the same old bureacratic red tape designed to milk something here for something there with lots of money under the covers. Make the seller of pollutant energy liable for a portion of this change over that they choose not to invest in.

6:26AM PDT on Jul 15, 2009

"Austin energy sin? They're trying to produce and consume the actual green energy, creating problems..."

Q: This is a "sin"???????

The problems in creating a system for the production of renewable energy cannot be solved overnight but I would hardly call it a "sin" to try to establish and maintain a strong energy base for a more localized area than to sell 'credits' to someone who will create more problems in another area.

4:13AM PDT on Jul 15, 2009

Not everyone is as environmental as the readers of this post, so price is an important incentive to get everyone to support the relatively new green energy program. However, being new, it takes time for the concept of renewable energy to be integrated into the daily lives of the people. (And for the price to stabilise)

Alas, our withering world cannot wait.

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