Four Vermonters are asking the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether the state’s largest electric utility is making deceptive claims about the renewable energy it produces and the credits it receives for that production.
The petition to the Federal Trade Commission claims Green Mountain Power has told customers it is using power from renewable sources when the utility has actually sold that power to other utilities.
The petition also claims GMP sells renewable energy credits to out-of-state utilities, which is encouraged under Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development, or SPEED, Program. The petitioners say GMP still claims the power its customers are using is renewable. Vermont Law School Deputy Director at the Institute for Energy and the Environment Kevin Jones is one of the four petitioners. “There’s a very simple rule. If a utility or a competitive power supplier is going to make green claims or renewable claims about the content of the energy that is sold to their customers that utility must retire the renewable energy credits in enough supply to back up those claims.”
Jones adds they found numerous instances in which GMP failed to do that. “In the petition we cited thirteen instances where GMP had made claims that their customers very clearly were getting energy from those facilities when it was very clear that GMP was selling the renewable energy credits for those facilities out of state.”
Vermont Law School Professor and Senior Counsel at the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic Patrick Parenteau is acting as counsel for the petitioners. He explains that the petition comes following a three-year effort to get Green Mountain Power or the Vermont Public Service Board to end the practice of claiming renewable credits at the same time they are sold to out-of-state utilities. “They are clearly trying to influence Vermonters who are concerned about their carbon footprint that they’re getting renewable energy when they’re not.”
Green Mountain Power disputes the petition’s claims. Spokesperson Dorothy Schnure says they follow state law and sell the renewable energy credits to keep costs low for their customers. “We do what the Vermont SPEED law encourages us to do. We build renewable projects in Vermont and we do sell the renewable energy credits to other utilities. The money from that goes directly to keeping rates low for our customers. In fact, we’re about to reduce our rates by 2.46 percent beginning with October bills.”
Schnure says there’s no validity to the claims within the petition. “Their filing is rife with errors. We have been transparent with our customers. We have been very transparent with the sale of the REC’s. And we do not claim the renewable attributes of the REC’s that we have sold.”
Pat Parenteau believes there are repercussions beyond Vermont’s borders if the utility is allowed to continue the practice. “Our carbon footprint in Vermont is going up. So the program that allows this is really not achieving the goal of reducing carbon and protecting the climate. And it’s actually inhibiting the development of renewable energy sources in other parts of New England by allowing those utilities to buy the credits instead of actually installing new renewable energy projects.”
There is no deadline for the Federal Trade Commission to take action on the petition.