Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission gave a light wrist-slap to Green Mountain Power, telling GMP to “be more clear” in how it advertises renewable electricity while closing the books on a complaint of deceptive marketing.
The allegation had come from the usually reliable folks at the Vermont Law School, and in particular the unreliable Kevin Jones, who’s had a bee in his bonnet for years about Vermont’s SPEED program, which allows utilities to sell renewable energy credits out of state. Jones’ complaint is that selling RECs is basically a shell game, allowing Vermont utilities AND the out-of-state REC buyers to both claim they’re producing “green energy.”
Technically true, but with a couple of giant caveats.
SPEED was designed to encourage development of renewables at a time when they were not financially competitive. Vermont utilities could build renewables and recoup some of their costs through the sale of RECs, thus cushioning the blow to ratepayers. And it was designed from the beginning to be a temporary program; it will expire in 2017, and the legislature is crafting its replacement this year. SPEED is going away on schedule, having achieved its mission.
Jones also ignores the fact that, whether or not RECs were sold, their sale allowed us to adopt renewables more quickly than we could have otherwise. Real power was generated, and it reduced the overall need for fossil fuels.
The complaint also seems to rely on a misperception of electricity generation and consumption. Power enters the grid from all kinds of sources, is distributed through the grid, and consumed — all in real time. Unless you live off the grid, there’s no telling where your electricity comes from at any given moment. GMP can promote its commitment to renewables, but it cannot promise you that your power comes from the solar farm down the road, a hydroelectric dam in northern Quebec, a fossil fuel-burning plant in Massachusetts, or the big nukes at Seabrook. That’s true with our without SPEED.
I wrote about this a couple months ago and you can read more there, so I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say I’m glad to see the FTC close this case. And once the legislature passes the next iteration of power regulation, I wish Mr. Jones luck in finding a new binky.
I am almost inclined to write a long commentary on why you are wrong, and explain in detail what Kevin Jones is fighting for, but I dont think any one really reads your blog; and you just seem to be writing these provocative articles just to get any attention you can. To sum up if fighting for justice and exposing the truth is a “hobby” then Kevin Jones has most noble hobby of all, and he should stick to it.
What, no “Mom’s Basement” reference? I’m disappointed.
As a former Rutland City Councilor, I have defended a number of democratic legislative initiatives that while I thought they may not have gone far enough they were big steps in the right direction, including Act 60 and Civil Unions. In 1988, I quit my job with the local electric utility (CVPS – they later took me back) to spend my summer and fall working as a field staffer on the Sanders for Congress campaign on what was almost a historic upset, we would later achieve that victory. So I wish I could adopt your don’t worry be happy view of the SPEED program and Vermont’s fundamentally flawed renewable energy policy. Unfortunately, this multi-generation native Vermonter with a very liberal viewpoint happens to have twenty years experience in the energy industry and that experience tells me that if a public policy happens to be a miserable failure that it is better to pull the plug on that policy than continue with the perception that all is good just because it was designed and implemented by the Democrats. Let me share with you a few facts. The SPEED program significantly increased Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to today because of the out of state sale of all of the renewable energy credits. Even after the sale of the RECs, the vast majority of the SPEED resources were above market and thus they had an upward pressure on electric rates (the early standard offer solar was $0.30/kwh). While the SPEED program caused some renewable resources to be built in Vermont since they were all sold to meet MA and CT RPS requirements they did not result in a net increase in renewables in New England (10 MW of SPEED renewables + 10 MW MA RPS requirement only results in 10 MW of renewables constructed whereas with an RPS a 10 MW VT RPS goal plus a 10 MW MA RPS goal results in 20 MW of renewables). So the SPEED program increases Vermont’s carbon footprint, even after the sale of RECs raises Vermont electric rates and does not result in a net increase in renewables in New England. Climate change is real and it requires us to take serious policy actions to mitigate as best as possible future increases in the earth’s temperature. Apparently for some people when it comes to the Vermont SPEED program, ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately our global climate is not as easily fooled as some in the media and general public.
If you think I support SPEED “just because it was designed and implemented by Democrats,” you haven’t been reading this blog very long.
Also, as it happens, you’re wrong on the history. SPEED wasn’t the Dems’ first choice; they went with it because they knew then-Gov. Jim Douglas was staunchly opposed to renewable portfolio standards. Yes, it was a Democratic idea; but as with so many other initiatives of the 2000s, it was a compromise aimed at evading the gubernatorial veto pen.
Actually you’ve got it wrong. I was in the room when Scudder Parker came in to “save the day” with SPEED. It was the utilities, primarily CVPS, that was fighting against Vermont adopting an RPS. It was pretty much dead when Scudder arrived on the scene to assure everyone that Vermont could do things voluntarily and get somewhere, as opposed to doing nothing. While Douglas may have been carrying the utility’s water, it has long been acknowledged that CVPS was the million pound gorilla, and now that has transferred to GMP. I doubt that a real RPS would ever have gotten out of committee, let alone make it as far as Governor Douglas’ desk. Those were the dynamics in play at the time.
And your interpretation of the harm SPEED has done to Vermont’s renewable energy progress reads straight out of a developer’s playbook. Building any renewable anywhere is good, eh? Well if you dig into what’s been built and who is getting the green cred for it, you find that Vermonters can’t claim any big wind as theirs, they can claim practically no big solar as theirs, they can’t even claim that SunCommon’s 150 kW Community Solar Arrays are providing renewable energy for Vermonters. Helping Massachusetts and Connecticut meet their RPS goals definitely puts money in developers’ pockets. But the SPEED program has not created renewable energy for Vermonters, and that is not just semantics or about the flow of electrons. It’s bad policy that has been in place too long and has created a lot of problems for Vermonters, not the least of which is confusion and an aroma of dishonesty.
And when did I, or anybody else, ever say “Building any renewable anywhere is good”?