By Wayne Spiggle
One of the perks of serving on the WVHC board of directors is that from time to time we use email to exchange observations, opinions and information not on the agenda but contributive to discussion at board meetings. Recently, we talked about Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and the conversation prompted our inimitable editor of this newspaper to ask me to write this article.
RECs are a creation of the federal government to support certain non-carbon electricity generation. There are REC programs for wind, solar electric, biomass, low-impact hydropower (no dams), biomass, fuel cells using renewable fuels and geothermal. <http://www.wri.org/publication/bottom-line-renewable-energy-certificates>
RECs and SRECs
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), also known as Green tags, Renewable Energy Credits, Renewable Electricity Certificates, or Tradable Renewable Certificates (TRCs), are non-tangible energy commodities in the United States that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy source and was fed into the grid. Solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) are RECs that are specifically generated by solar energy. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_Energy_Certificate_(United_States)>
How to Buy RECs and SRECs
For the home or apartment dweller, it’s easy, according to the web pages of clean energy companies. Most function as brokers you pay to manage your electricity bill in a fashion to personally subsidize the green energy industry. You pay the broker what you owe your utility company plus a surcharge that covers their overhead and the purchase of green energy certificates in your name. The number of RECs you purchase will cover whatever percentage of your electricity use you choose. The certificate is then retired. <https://www.arcadiapower.com/how-it-works/>
The renewable electricity you purchase through RECs does not actually enter your home. The physics of the grid makes it impossible for it to send designated electrons to your home or apartment that are any different from what is being sent to your neighbor. While you are not directly using electricity from renewable sources, you are supporting those sources.
So, what are you and your neighbor burning? Coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 94% of West Virginia’s net electricity generation in 2016, natural gas contributed 1.6%, and renewable energy resources—primarily hydroelectric power and wind energy contributed about 3.8%. <https://www.eia.gov/state/print.php?sid=WV>
The Bottom Line
If you choose to promote renewable energy companies by purchasing RECs and SRECs it is an honorable thing to do, concluded our board’s discussion. If you want to use more renewable electricity than your neighbor, consider a solar electric installation on your property or even a small wind turbine. These installations can be connected to the grid and in some cases excess electricity can be sold to the grid.
The environmental community is currently committed to the assumption that switching to renewable energy is essential if humans are to survive global warming. But are wind and solar the answer? The Brookings Institute thinks not. Several very informative articles are available through the institute and are recommended reading.