Redefining RECs--Part 1: Untangling attributes and offsets
Renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions markets are currently in a state of confusion regarding the treatment of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Should consumers buy RECs or emission offsets? After examining this question, the author concludes that RECs are not equivalent to emission offset credits, and as currently defined, the retiring of a REC may have no impact on emissions from electric power generation. Consumers who purchase RECs in voluntary green power markets are providing financial assistance to renewable generators in the form of a production subsidy. Generators that sell RECs are not transferring emission reductions, since they are unlikely to have ownership or the ability to quantify reductions using a commonly accepted standard. More importantly, RECs currently sold in voluntary markets do not pass credible additionality tests and can, at best, be expected to have a market demand effect, which will be less than the supply of RECs on the market. REC definitions that use the term "environmental attributes" or "environmental benefits" are almost universally ambiguous, providing the mistaken impression that consumers are purchasing a good instead of subsidizing a public good.
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