My Power Company Wants to Sell Me Climate Indulgences

by Ivan Osorio on October 27, 2009

I pay my power bill online, so whenever I get something from Dominion Virginia Power over snail mail it catches my attention. Usually, it’s some notice about utility work nearby. However, the mailing I got today was unusual. It was an appeal to sign up for Dominion’s Green Power initiative.

The scheme appears simple enough. The mailer says, “When you sign up for Dominion Green Power, you add a little extra to your monthly bill which Dominion will use to purchase certified renewable energy certificates on your behalf.”

And what does the consumer get in return? Well, that’s a good question. Dominion’s Green Power Web page features a video that features a family that “pays an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour, and the money is used to purchase renewable energy certificates to support green energy development through a vendor called 3 Degrees.”

And what does 3 Degrees actually do? According to its website:

3Degrees enables businesses and individuals to advance their climate needs and strategies We do this by originating and providing Green-e Energy Certified Renewable Energy Certificates and third-party certified Verified Emission Reductions (aka, carbon offsets) from around the world to help our partners reduce their environmental footprint. We also provide customized consulting services to help businesses address their climate- and energy-related challenges.

This is precisely the kind of climate policy rent-seeking that cap-and-trade policies are designed to encourage. As CEI’s Marlo Lewis has warned, this kind of “certificate” can only have value under a cap-and-trade scheme. In light of the difficulty that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are having in pushing through climate legislation, 3 Degrees’ business model may be riskier than its founders had envisioned.

But whatever the future of climate policy, one thing is for certain: Private subsidy schemes like this net the consumer nothing tangible. And for those who do go in for that sort of thing, the warm, fuzzy feeling of feeling less guilty about helping to warm the planet must wear off fairly quickly.

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