Kevin Jones has a bug up his butt about one aspect of Vermont’s renewable energy program. The latest emission from the Vermont Law School professor’s policy shop is a report slamming the sale of Renewable Energy Credits. It deliberately overlooks the purpose and endgame of RECs, focusing largely on one immediate consequence:
“Vermont gets virtually none of its grid power from wind or solar sources, according to a report Vermont Law School students presented recently to the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
Developers and utilities sell Vermont’s wind and solar power to other New England states, using what are known as renewable energy credits, or RECs. As a result, although Vermonters subsidize these forms of energy, utilities in other states actually benefit from them, the report found.
The topline there — “Vermont gets virtually none of its power from wind or solar” — is technically accurate but fundamentally misleading.
It’s true that Vermont doesn’t immediately get “credit” for our renewables. But in reality, we are producing significant amounts of carbon-neutral energy. That’s a good thing, even in the short run when the “credit” goes elsewhere; and in the long run, the RECs will retire and we will get the “credit” for cheap energy that helps combat global warming.
Jones’ influence on reports like this soil the reputation of VLS, and honestly, I don’t know why they let him get away with it. He is having a malign influence on our energy debate under the VLS imprimatur, and teaching his students some bad policy lessons.
“We’re putting a lot of money and resources into subsidizing renewable energy for Massachusetts and Connecticut, and it makes no sense from a public policy standpoint,” Jones said.
Again, technically true but missing the point.
Vermont allows the sale of RECs in order to enable renewable development while keeping down electricity costs. This gets around the twin economic problem of renewables: first, the build-out costs are high, but once it’s up and running the power is very cheap. Second, it’s relatively new technology, and costs are only just beginning to come down. (Plus, renewables compete in a marketplace that’s artificially tilted toward fossil fuels, which get all sorts of subsidies and tax breaks that artificially lower the cost of coal, oil and gas.)
Selling RECs is a way around those market forces. Jones ignores all of that. He also overlooks one salient fact: sooner or later, the RECs will be retired and the “credit” will come home. State law establishes Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS); when those take effect, utilities will have a strong incentive to retire RECs and “bring the power home.” (Under a bill that became law in 2015, utilities will be required to produce 75% of their energy via renewables by the year 2032. That will practically eliminate the sale of RECs.)
The report also found that Vermont has doubled its greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production over the last 10 years. About a quarter of that can be attributed to the sale of renewable credits out of state, the report estimated.
Again, missing the point. It’s true, in the artificial construct of “energy credits.” But every renewable kilowatt counts where it matters most: combating global warming. For now, the “credit” goes out of state, but the way this report puts it, you’d think the renewable energy simply disappears. It doesn’t. It has a real-world impact.
The report mischaracterizes the electric-power system, falsely positing Vermont as an island unto its own. We are part of a seamless regional grid. Power is produced in various ways, distributed through the system, and instantly consumed. The grid is no respecter of borders.
One of the anti-renewable canards, currently in favor with skeptical policymakers and emphasized in this report, is that developers are misleading consumers by telling them that they will directly use the energy produced by a renewable installation. That is, in fact, never true unless you’re off the grid. Otherwise, the power is produced and it goes off into the grid to be used God knows where, and nothing can change that fact.
The report calls for a ban on RECs. That would hamstring the development of renewables. The report alleges that RECs cause us to increase our consumption of dirty energy. That’s true only if you see Vermont as an energy island. It’s not.
Too bad the students who wrote this report, under Jones’ guidance, aren’t getting the real picture about RECs and the energy market. Plus, Jones is lending aid and comfort to opponents of renewable energy and, indirectly, the fossil fuel industry itself. Is that what VLS really wants?