Environmentalists petition FTC to investigate GMP claims that energy is from 'renewable' sources

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Environmentalists petition FTC to investigate GMP claims that energy is from 'renewable' sources

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 3:01pm -- tim

Four Vermont citizens and environmental leaders -- Bruce Post, Curt McCormack, Charles W. Johnson, and Kevin B Jones -- filed a petition Monday with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate what they claim are deceptive trade practices of Green Mountain Power in the marketing of renewable energy to Vermont consumers. The petition was filed by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School. The petition documents that, pursuant to Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) law, GMP has represented to its customers and to the public that it provides electricity from renewable sources, thereby reducing the customer’s carbon footprint and protecting the environment. In fact, the petition states, GMP both counts the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) generated by these sources against Vermont’s renewable  energy goals while also substantially selling  all of these RECs to out-of- state utilities, who in turn count them against their mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). The result of this double-counting is that Vermont customers are misled into thinking that they are buying “renewable energy,” when in fact they are getting “null” electricity consisting of a mix of fossil fuel, nuclear, gas and other “brown” sources of electricity from the regional grid.

GMP responded by saying it has been completely transparent about selling some, but not all, of its RECs and that those sales have reduced Vermont customer rates by up to 5 percent. "VLS has provided an inaccurate portrait of our communications," it said (see full statement below.)

The petitioners, meanwhile, seek a determination that this practice is deceptive, pursuant to the common-sense rule that if one sells the credit, one cannot claim the credit. Further, the petitioners have put forth a three-part plan to fix Vermont’s renewable energy laws so that the State truly advances renewable energy. 

In regard to the importance of this petition, Post said, “Recalling something Churchill once said about truth in a time of war, I don't believe that Green Mountain Power should be allowed to obscure the truth behind a veil of spin, obfuscation and illusion.”

“Vermont’s renewable energy laws are fundamentally flawed,” said Jones, who works for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. “Unlike all of our Northeastern neighbors, Vermont’s SPEED program allows Vermont utilities to sell the renewable energy credits associated with these resources and also to count them in Vermont.  This double-counting is contrary to our climate goals.” 

Recently, the State of Connecticut took legislative action to prevent the double-counting of renewable energy from Vermont’s RECs toward Connecticut’s RPS requirements. 

“The real issue here is that GMP’s practice of selling RECs while claiming to be providing green energy actually is increasing Vermont’s carbon footprint at a time when we should be doing everything we can to reduce it,” said Patrick Parenteau, senior counsel for the ENRLC.

Beyond accuracy in marketing, the petitioners hope to prompt three-part energy policy reform under which Vermont joins its Northeastern neighbors in adopting an RPS that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and enhances climate change mitigation, as follows:

  • First, Vermont should modify the SPEED program to be a renewable portfolio standard like 29 other states, including all of our neighbors, and require Vermont’s utilities to retire their RECs; 
  • Second, Vermont should prohibit the out-of-state sale of RECs from our net-metered projects. Since net-metered customers are paid a premium price for their clean, distributed energy, the greenhouse gas reductions for this energy should remain in Vermont;
  • Third, Vermont should require that its utilities provide an environmental label on electric bills that discloses the sources of Vermont’s electricity supply as well as emissions, and informs customers of the true environmental impact of electricity. Numerous states in the region require mandatory environmental labels on electric utility bills and all of this data is readily available from the New England Generator Information System. 

Petitioner Bios:

  1. Bruce Post, a resident of Essex, Vt., has worked for U.S. Sen. Robert T. Stafford, Congressman Jim Jeffords, U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson, U.S. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey and Vermont Gov. Richard A. Snelling. An accomplished writer and speaker, Post created and directed “Riding the Winds of Change: A Primer in Political Action,” former winner of the National Education Association’s best political action video. Post currently serves as chair to the State Board of Libraries and is on the board of the Rokeby Museum and Channel 17 community television.
  2. Curt McCormack has served in the Vermont legislature for 14 years. He has chaired the Joint Energy and Natural Resources Committees and previously served as the vice chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures Environmental Committee. McCormack also has worked on sustainable energy in the private sector; as the owner of a small business he focused on sustainable energy best practices. After implementing a world-renowned solid waste facility in Senegal with the Peace Corps, McCormack has continued to do international environmental consulting, working with organizations like USAID, the Peace Corps and other NGOs. McCormack is a resident of Burlington.
  3. Charles W. Johnson is a doctor of science who has served for many years as the Vermont State Naturalist. Following his position as a park ranger in the Northeast Kingdom, Johnson began to publish on the topic of Vermont’s environment. Johnson’s first book, “The Nature of Vermont: Introduction and Guide to a New England Environment,” gives a picture of the natural environment in each of Vermont’s State Parks and how the entire state’s natural world emerged. As assistant to the commissioner for the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, he has helped protect Vermont’s high ecological value areas as well as maintaining important corridors for wildlife. 
  4. Kevin Jones resides in Chittenden, Vt. He is professor of energy technology and policy at Vermont Law School. He also has worked as director of Power Market Policy for the Long Island Power Authority, associate director in the Energy Practice of Navigant Consulting, and as the director of energy policy for the City of New York. He previously served as deputy to former Vermont State Auditor Edward Flanagan, is a former four-term alderman with the City of Rutland, and began his energy career with Central Vermont Public Service Corporation.  

"Anybody can ask the FTC to investigate anything," said Dorothy Schnure, GMP Corporate Spokesperson, in an emailed response. "We are completely consistent with the prohibition against double-counting renewable generation. We support renewable development and have been very clear to our customers that presently we sell the RECs from our renewable generation, which reduces customers’ rates by as much as 5% and allows others to claim the renewable attributes.

"VLS has provided an inaccurate portrait of our communications. For example, a quick read shows that they cite only a portion of a fact sheet that actually includes a complete explanation of the REC sales. It also references our Rutland Solar Education Center, for which we do not sell the RECs, and so we rightly claim the power produced there is renewable.

Anyone who takes an objective and fair view would, we believe, have to conclude that we are complying with VT law. A good first step would be to go to GMP’s website, where we make clear the power is used in VT and attributes sold out of state. http://www.greenmountainpower.com/fuel-mix/."

Source: Vermont Law School. 9.15.2014. PHOTO: The Lowell wind turbines are GMP's chief source of its RECs. VTDigger photo.