For those of us working in renewable energy, 2014 felt like The Confluence—a time when many events finally came together to build real momentum for renewable energy development. For example, the sudden falling cost of solar photovoltaic systems has led to a surge of installations across the country (and around the globe). Coupled with innovative financing mechanisms, this drop in cost is making solar power more accessible not only to homes and small businesses, but to new community solar programs that are including distributed solar generation in their portfolios.
We worked hard this year on many state policy issues that impacted renewable energy claims, including from solar. We want to ensure that ownership of the environmental benefits from solar generation is clear, and that double-counting issues do not arise that could slow the brisk pace of solar development nationwide.
Another trend this year is that businesses began taking a much more hands-on approach to investing in renewable energy. They committed to installing unprecedented amounts of onsite solar and engaged in long-term contracts that get projects built. This was the motivation behind us releasing a new Green-e certification option called Green-e Direct that ensures this exciting new step forward for clean energy procurement has the independent oversight necessary to allow companies to proceed without getting slowed by a complicated tracking and claims process. If we can help these companies do direct purchasing the right way, we are confident others will follow their lead.
At the federal level, this year saw what may be one of the one of the most far-reaching and dramatic actions ever taken by the U.S. EPA to limit greenhouse gases. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants offers not only an excellent reason to retire heavy polluters in the near term, but done right, also gives states an incentive to generate more renewable energy. This, coupled with commonsense energy efficiency measures, could drastically reduce the carbon intensity of electricity generation, bringing states that much closer to realizing their goals under the rule. The comments we submitted to the EPA were extensive, and underscored that the infrastructure for using renewable energy certificates (RECs) to comply with the Plan is already in place, and ready for states to utilize it even more to track their progress towards compliance.
There is so much more to say. In my 12 years at CRS, I have never seen us do more in a single year. This organization has been active and visible on the issues that mean the most to clean energy markets, and continues to be forward-thinking on solving problems, increasing consumer engagement, and ensuring the path is clear for new renewable energy development. We look forward to doing even more in 2015. If you share our vision, let’s work together.
When CRS was founded in 1997, one of its first initiatives was Green-e. This new certification program was meant to serve deregulated power markets by providing the independent oversight customers needed when wading into this largely unknown landscape. Nearly two decades later, Green-e is certifying three-quarters of the voluntary renewable energy market in the U.S. and nearly 100% of renewable energy certificate (REC) transactions. Its three programs—Green-e Climate, Green-e Energy, and Green-e Marketplace—allow us to certify a much wider range of options that impact consumers and businesses than when we started.
Green-e Climate is an international program that certifies carbon offsets sold in the retail market to businesses and individuals looking to reduce the impact of their non-electricity energy use, like heating, driving, and flying. This year Green-e Climate introduced new certification options for utility gas offset programs. In response to increasing customer demand, many gas utilities began offering options that bundle natural gas with high-quality carbon offsets in order to neutralize the greenhouse gas emissions associated with that energy use. Green-e certification of these products is important for consumer protection and as a way to demonstrate overall product quality.
The program completed two stakeholder comment periods in 2014 to expand endorsement of the American Carbon Registry (ACR) and the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) to include new project types. These include energy efficiency and transportation projects in ACR along with Mexican forestry, nitrogen management, organic waste composting, and rice cultivation projects in CAR. Green-e Climate also updated its endorsements of the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Gold Standard, and suspended its endorsement of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) until there is enough consumer demand to continue.
Early this year Green-e Climate began certifying offsets that are offered from specific projects. This is a new certification category that gives customers the option to choose the specific source of their Green-e Climate certified offsets. It also streamlines certification and verification for sellers making project-specific sales. At the end of 2014 two sellers were offering the option to their customers, Renewable Choice Energy and Carbon Solutions Group.
As our largest Green-e program, Green-e Energy saw an uptick last year both in numbers of total customers and sales through utility green pricing programs, but a small decline in total sales, mostly due to shifts in corporate REC purchasing and some seasonal volatility in power markets. The program certifies about 1% of the total U.S. electricity mix, with over half of the installed wind capacity in the U.S. participating in Green-e Energy certified transactions.
In the fall, Green-e Energy launched a new certification option called Green-e Direct that will include renewable energy generated or purchased directly by companies, instead of through a broker or retailer. This was a popular option for many companies this year, as more chose greater involvement in their clean energy purchasing. Green-e Direct certifies renewable energy acquired through power purchase agreements between companies and generators, on-site generation, and company-owned generation facilities.
Green-e Energy was also busy behind the scenes, updating several of its governing documents, including the Code of Conduct and Green-e Energy National Standard, and updating the fee structure for participants.
In the past year Green-e Marketplace instituted an exciting new way to certify events that use 100% renewable energy and offset their natural gas use with carbon offsets. These Green-e certified events can use the logo on conference materials, which helps extend our brand while educating attendees about how large the carbon footprint of even a small event can be, when you consider attendee travel. One of the first events to use this certification was also one of the biggest in the country: Greenbuild 2014, which is put on by the U.S. Green Building Council and brings in nearly 20,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors every year. The conference partnered with TerraPass to help offset the event.
Green-e Marketplace continues to watch the growing electric vehicle market as an opportunity to link transportation energy use with renewable electricity. Homes powered by clean energy are ideal places to charge EVs—and with roofs across the country being covered in photovoltaic panels, the linkage is even more clear. EVs also have a longer-term potential use as battery storage for both emergency use and on-demand balancing of the grid by utilities.
As part of our mission to advance sustainable energy through policy mechanisms, CRS engages with policymakers, utilities, and NGOs when we can assist in improving the policy climate for renewable development.
At the state level, several states and utilities were considering actions this year that could lead to undermining the integrity of the voluntary markets. We weighed in on several of them.
In proceedings at the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), CRS worked with various stakeholders including the Solar Energy Industries Association, Renewable Energy Markets Association, and Western Resource Advocates to educate the ACC about the impact of ACC Staff’s proposal to count renewable energy certificates from distributed generation (chiefly rooftop solar) towards the state’s obligations under its renewable portfolio standard. Several of the proposed alternatives, including “Track and Record” and “Track and Monitor,” could result in double counting—allowing certificates not owned by the utilities to count towards their RPS compliance obligations. We submitted extensive comments and CRS Executive Director Jennifer Martin traveled to Arizona as a witness to explain the size and impact of the voluntary market in a hearing held by an administrative law judge. The decision is pending.
In March 2014, Minnesota became the first state in the U.S. to adopt a “value of solar” policy, where utilities pay a set, market-based price for solar energy to generators that is locked in over a long-term contract. In a related proceeding the Commission sought information about REC ownership to ensure that the Value of Solar Tariff appropriately accounts for RECs. We submitted comments describing REC ownership, particularly that they are a commodity that belongs to the generator and must be bought in order to be transferred.
Washington State’s Energy Independence Act requires most of the larger electric utilities in Washington to use renewable energy and energy efficiency in serving their retail customers, including a renewable portfolio standard with renewable energy targets as a percentage of customer load. Utilities can use RECs or bundled renewable energy resources to meet the targets, provided all generation took place in the Pacific Northwest. CRS submitted comments to the Washington Department of Commerce emphasizing the importance of retiring RECs used for the RPS.
CRS provided comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission regarding the Implementation of HB 4126, which contemplates a Voluntary Renewable Energy Tariff. CRS comments described industry best practices for Green Pricing programs, including the use of tracking systems and retiring associated RECs. Staff continues to provide information to the Oregon Portfolio Option Committee, focusing on disclosure requirements and the relation of voluntary products and RPS renewables.
International Market Development
China Sustainable Energy Program
Our China team continued its work to provide international best practice guidance to Chinese organizations. Staff traveled to China in April to advance discussions on distributed renewable energy generation, high-penetration renewable energy studies, wind and solar integration studies, dispatch order, and energy storage. During the trip, a workshop on priority dispatch of renewable energy generation was held in Beijing and featured presentations from CRS. While there, the newly formed China Variable Generation Integration Group (CVIG) was launched. In October 2014, team members organized a study group of 17 delegates from China to visit the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and to attend the Utility Variable Generation Integration Group meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Separately, team members completed a variety of projects, including developing sources for wind resource and wind forecast data, a comparison of China’s solar PV grid codes to those in Europe, pumped storage and the operating flexibility of ultra-high voltage direct current lines, and more.
Greenhouse Gas Accounting Standards
This year saw the final stretch of a four-year-long process by the World Resources Institute (WRI) to formalize the standards for measuring greenhouse gas impacts of clean energy acquired through RECs and green-pricing programs. CRS is an active member of WRI’s Technical Working Group, a role that has involved countless staff hours dedicated to providing comments, attending calls and meetings, preparing documents, conducting research, engaging in consultations and responding to inquiries, giving presentations, and developing content as a part of this work. As a result, CRS has been instrumental in shaping the final guidance, due to be released in January 2015, which is expected to ultimately preserve the greenhouse gas value of the renewable energy purchases that make up the U.S. voluntary market.
Renewable Energy Markets 2014
One of the best ways we stay on top of ideas and trends in the industry is by organizing the industry’s most important conference for marketplace participants. This year’s Renewable Energy Markets (REM) conference served as an important forum for the year’s most-discussed topics, from corporate direct purchasing to solar’s rise, to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, to changes in renewable energy financing in the post-production tax credit era. Nearly 350 attendees came to the 19th REM conference, held at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento from December 2–4th, including generators, marketers, utility representatives, purchasers, policymakers, and regional stakeholders.
2014 Green Power Leadership Awards
There is no award more coveted in our industry than a Green Power Leadership Award (GPLA), and every year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and CRS present awards in three categories: Market Development, Purchasers, and Suppliers. The awards recognize outstanding commitments and achievements in the green power marketplace for both individuals and organizations. CRS gave awards to four organizations and two individuals for their role in building and shaping the market for renewable energy over the past year: Apple Inc., Mary Sotos, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality won Green Power Market Development awards. Puget Sound Energy won an award in Leadership in Green Power Education, and Robert Maddox won the Green Power Leader of the Year award.
CRS staff was hard at work this year working on comments, reports, and whitepapers that helped educate market participants on issues related to legislation, claims, and consumer protection. Some of our most-read work this year included:
Tracking Renewable Energy for the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Guidelines for States to Use Existing REC Tracking Systems to Comply with 111(d). This paper, co-written with The Regulatory Assistance Project, explains how existing REC tracking systems can be used as an integral part of state compliance for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. These REC tracking systems, together with state policies designed to increase the production and use of renewable electricity, will be critical to states looking to use renewable energy to reduce the carbon intensity of their power sector.
Protecting Carbon Markets from Boiler Rooms: Overview and Recommendations for Market Participants. In 2010, reports of boiler rooms operating in carbon markets and selling emissions reduction credits (carbon offsets) as investments began to emerge out of the U.K. In 2013, CRS began work examining what investor protections are needed in carbon markets, particularly in voluntary OTC markets, and what practices market participants could adopt to regulate carbon investments and enhance protection against deceptive sales tactics. This report summarizes our recommendations, which are aimed at increasing consumer and investor protection, with broader climate policy and market-stability benefits.
Renewables 2014 Global Status Report. CRS Executive Director Jennifer Martin was a lead contributor to the Green Purchasing and Labeling section of this annual report, which provides an overview of the international renewable energy market, industry, investment and policy developments worldwide.
The Legal Basis for Renewable Energy Certificates. This whitepaper, updated in January 2014, explains the strong legal basis for the use of RECs as instruments that represent the attributes of renewable electricity generation and are used to demonstrate renewable electricity purchasing, delivery, and use within the broader context of functioning voluntary and compliance renewable electricity markets. This document provides a summary of different selected sources on the definition and function of RECs in the U.S.
Comments on Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNOPR), Fossil Fuel‐Generated Energy Consumption Reduction for New Federal Buildings and Major Renovations of Federal Buildings, Docket No. EERE-2010-BT-STD-0031. Published 12/15/2014.
All 2014 Publications
- 2013 Green-e Verification Report. Published 12/02/2014.
- Comments on the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Section 111(d). Published 12/01/2014.
- REC Best Practices and Claims. Published 10/17/2014.
- Protecting Carbon Markets From Boiler Room Activities: Overview and Recommendations for Market Participants. Published 09/02/2014.
- Tracking Renewable Energy for the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Guidelines for States to Use Existing REC Tracking Systems to Comply with 111(d). Published 06/25/2014.
- Explanation of Green-e Energy Double-Claims Policy. Published 06/23/2014.
- Comments From CRS to the Arizona Corporation Commission’s Proposed Rulemaking to Modify Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard. Published 04/21/2014.
- Defining the Intangible: Renewable Energy Certificate Claims and Ownership in the Green Guide Era. Published 02/21/2014.
- The Legal Basis for Renewable Energy Certificates. Updated 01/31/2014.
- Comments on Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Proposed Revisions to Technology & Communications Sector Sustainability Accounting Standards TC0101, TC0102, TC0103, TC0201, TC0301, and TC0401. Published 01/02/2014.
- Comments on Washington State’s Chapter 194-37 (Energy Independence Act). Published 01/02/2014.
- Comments to Oregon’s Public Utility Commission regarding the Implementation of HB 4126 – Voluntary Renewable Energy Tariffs, 12/12/2014.
- Comments to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regarding a Commission Inquiry into the ownership of renewable energy certificates, 2/7/14.
“What Is a Renewable Energy Certificate?” To help explain RECs, we developed a short animated video to help illustrate how they are created, tracked, traded, and finally sold to end users.
We are proud of the continued progress the industry accomplished this year down the path to energy independence. Conversations about renewable energy can sometimes turn to the inevitability of climate change, or the difficulty of weaning ourselves off fossil fuel, but we focus instead on the biggest obstacle we’ve already overcome—convincing lawmakers and a skeptical public that the future is in renewable energy. We have made vast strides in clearing away the technological, legislative, and logistical hurdles to clean energy, but we must keep going. The staff of Center for Resource Solutions thanks you for your support this year, and for your continued advocacy in service to sustainable energy solutions.