Reality check on renewable energy credits

Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) seem to be less understood than Einstein's general theory of relativity. We are reading about accusations of fraud, that Massachusetts is "stealing our solar power," and that when you install solar panels and receive a REC credit, you aren't really powering your house with solar.

How is that possible? This controversy has affected the move to solar power. I will try to clarify this convoluted topic.

First, you must understand the purpose of Renewable Energy Credits. Many power companies in our region have a required percent of solar power they must achieve. But these companies that supply our electricity have always built big things like power plants and thousand mile power lines, and they are understandably not so good at installing thousands of small home and community solar systems, for many reasons (including concern over monopoly and competition). So economists have invented programs like the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which are a flexible and effective way to make something good happen, such as switching from coal to solar, which is what most of us would like to do.


So here is how RECs work. RECs are bonuses paid for installing solar power. The power companies pay these bonuses (RECs) to homeonwners, to encourage them to install their own solar power. The result is that enough systems are installed to reach the utilities' required solar levels. These RECs are registered and tracked, and then the power companies can say "we gave customers this much money and they installed this much solar." And the required percent of solar gets installed.

The REC program has been much more successful than was expected, hitting the goals and limits so rapidly that in some areas, people are no longer able to install solar. How many programs can claim this? I would love to see "Vermont children learning too fast, schools to close in February" in the paper. Then suddenly controversy rears its ugly head. The RECs are "fraudulent" because Massachusetts is buying them and "stealing our green power". "We" are "not getting anything" for our solar. So now would be a perfect time for a reality check.

First of all, remember, strange as it sounds, Vermont and Massachusetts share the same atmosphere that's being preserved by RECs, along with Iowa, Italy, India, and possibly even New York. Second, if Green Mountain Power wants or needs RECs to meet its goals, it can buy them from us, by out-bidding Massachusetts, and leading to even more solar, which is a good thing, exactly what is supposed to happen.

I do not accept the claims being made that you are not solar powered if you sell your RECs, and this is why. If I do nothing, I'm using conventional power. That's pretty simple. But if I'm thinking of spending $15,000 to put solar power on my roof, and Green Mountain Power or National Grid to our south will give me a bonus (buying my Renewable Energy Credits), I install it and it begins making clean renewable power. It would not have happened if I didn't do it and put up most of the money. That was the purpose of the program and it's working great, and clean renewable power is happening fast. My house is solar powered, and I really don't care who "gets the credit" for saving the environment, just that it gets saved. If I choose NOT to sell my REC's, it forces the power company to buy RECs from someone else, and that is admirable, but not necessary in my opinion, and it is counter to the purpose of the program, which is to encourage people to install solar power by making it a little more affordable. When you install a solar power system, your electricity will not be sucked away to Massachusetts. It will simply make your refrigerator hum quietly along without the need for natural gas or coal.

— Bill Christian North Bennington