Maine Needs Political Reforms, Truth In Advertising To Accelerate Fossil Fuel Transition

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“Sign up to stop climate change”, the courier read: “Save the world with renewable energies”. Even simplistic sales pitches can attract electricity consumers. Buying green electricity to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels is a laudable aspiration that many people share.

Maine is emerging as a clean energy hub, but its marketing remains muddy. Consumers are confused by new offers and rightly suspicious.

Fossil fuel companies have spent billions of dollars lying to the American public on global warming, causing irreparable damage. Maine’s main electric utility, Central Maine Power, has deception and ineptitude lost public trust. Year after year it’s the nation lowest rated utility on consumer satisfaction surveys.

The marketing of renewable energy should therefore be spotlessly clean, offering the transparency and accountability that are too rare in the energy sector. The state must do more to stop the misleading claims, including its own.

The currency of renewable energies

To see how consumers can be misled, it helps to understand some basics about this market. Renewable Energy Certificates (CERs) serve as a bargaining chip, providing financial credit (using a tiered system unique to each state) to producers for the environmental attributes of solar, wind, and sometimes hydroelectric power – although its inclusion undermines the credulity – biomass.

Electricity providers buy and withdraw RECs to meet state requirements Renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which promotes the transition to fossil fuels by taxing and gradually increasing the percentage of renewable electricity sold.

Utilities like CMP and Versant do not generate electricity; they simply provide the energy supplied by electricity suppliers. Meet Maine RPS Mandate, suppliers are currently required to purchase and withdraw enough CERs to cover 48.8% of a customer’s electricity consumption. Anyone who markets “100% renewable energy” must purchase and withdraw enough CERs to cover all of a customer’s electricity use.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently confirmed that the “The greatest CO avoided2 advantage “in the North-East will come from wind power and solar photovoltaic power.

To advance this goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, consumers who purchase RECs from Maine should look for Class IA RECs, which are awarded primarily to new wind and solar installations. As Maine’s RPS gradually increases the required percentage of these RECs, their withdrawal increases demand, which in turn spurs the construction of more solar and wind facilities.

Shades of renewable

Numerous electricity suppliers offer consumers options for “100% renewable energy”, a claim also made by the Maine Public Utility Commission Green energy program. The PUC assures consumers that listing will help “reduce our dependence on fossil fuels” because “every kilowatt hour associated with renewable energy makes a difference.”

The PUC fails to note that the type of renewable energies makes all the difference.

About 95% of the RECs that its green energy program bought and withdrawn in 2020 came from hydroelectric dams that have been operating since the 1980s. While technically producing renewable energy, aging hydroelectric plants provide questionable climate benefits and do not accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels.

Buy these Class II CER is doing next to nothing to spur construction of the new solar and wind facilities that Maine needs to dramatically reduce its carbon emissions. In 2020, the program did not purchase or withdraw a single Class IA REC.

The approximately 4,500 Green Power customers pay an average of over $ 100 a year to do good for the planet, but they are not getting the game-changing electricity they have come to expect.

A recent PUC order renewing the green energy program allows 44% of customer fees to go to “marketing and education” through the program’s entrepreneur, a REC broker called 3Degrees. In one eye-opening sales video for utilitiesA 3Degrees vice president suggests that a large part of green energy offerings are about using “robust marketing” to “sell a subscription product” to “hungry” customers to make a difference.

Given the shortcomings of its own green energy program, the PUC is unable to challenge the practices of electricity providers who sell “all renewable energy” to unsuspecting consumers from aging hydropower projects.

Solar farm shell set

Many electricity consumers are subscription to community solar farms, convinced by clever marketing arguments that they will receive “solar electricity”. Subscribers can support the development of a new solar installation, but they may not get “green electricity” since solar farms are currently allowed to sell all of their RECs to electricity suppliers.

Dan Burgess, director of the governor’s energy office, said that means their “RECs are almost certainly sold in NEPOOL (the New England power pool market) to meet their RPS requirements. “Utilities and retail electricity providers around New England, many of which are powered by fossil fuels, buy these RECs. Since the same unit of ‘green’ energy cannot be counted two times, these buyers get renewable energy rather than the solar subscriber.

Subscriptions to solar farms are best viewed as a large investment in the overall growth of renewables, rather than as a way to get “solar” energy as a consumer. the The Federal Trade Commission wrote that solar companies that sell RECs “should keep in mind that their customers may mistakenly believe that the electricity they are purchasing is renewable” and therefore companies should “be cautious and qualify claims about their production by revealing that their electricity is not renewable ”.

Maine extended certain consumer protections to community solar subscribers last year, but stricter marketing guidelines and disclosures are clearly needed.

Preliminary corrections

Maine Office of the Public Advocate is working to advance a bill during this legislative session that would require community solar projects to meet the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard. The bill, not yet published, will have to be approved by the Legislative Council to be heard during this session.

The way solar farms operate now, we “use less renewable energy as a state, not more,” said Andrew Landry, Acting Public Advocate. Maine law requires retail electricity providers to withdraw enough RECs to cover nearly half of a customer’s electricity use. When a person signs up for a community solar farm, “the energy actually consumed by that customer goes from 50% cleanliness to 0% cleanliness”.

Landry wants “clearer information to customers” about where community solar farms sell RECs and “what that means about the nature of the electricity” that subscribers receive. It wants to ensure a direct benefit to all consumers, especially those with low and modest incomes.

Landry expects foreign companies to develop solar farms in Maine because “they want this stream of income. Whether they need it, that’s another question.

Restore confidence

The proposed OPA bill is a vital and long overdue step in addressing deceptive marketing practices. If the bar is set higher for community solar farms, observed Fortunat Mueller, co-founder of Revision Energy, it is important to “raise the bar everywhere.”

This means the PUC should stop greenwashing its own program offerings.

The reform of the Green Power Program is an opportunity as well as a moral imperative. By committing to purchase and remove only Class IA RECs from new wind and solar installations, the program could accelerate Maine’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously restoring marketing integrity. renewable energy. (Costs to attendees would likely increase, but people would pay for a background change, not a green glow.)

The state could acquire and withdraw all Class IA RECs beyond those used to meet the RPS of solar purchases at utility scale and community solar farms. With the state removing all RECs from community solar farms, subscribers can rest assured that they are not inadvertently supporting the continued operation of fossil fuel power plants around New England.

Rather than wasting consumer money on hydroelectric RECs and excessive marketing costs, the state’s green energy program should focus exclusively on the purchase and retirement of Class IA RECs. Only then will participants get what they paid for all along but have not yet received – an honest chance to “reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”.


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