The State Corporation Commission regulates Virginia electric utilities. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)
Virginia’s State Corporation Commission has approved Dominion Energy Virginia’s request to offer a new product to electric utility customers who want to buy renewable energy at a discount but lack the knowledge to understand when they are being taken for chumps.
“Rider REC” is an ultra-cheap version of the company’s Green Power Program (itself of questionable value). For less than a buck a month on their electric bills, customers will be able to buy renewable energy certificates that cost Dominion next to nothing because no one else wants them. And for good reason: these are the dregs of the renewable energy category.
You won’t find any wind or solar in Rider REC, but you might find paper mill waste, trees burned after clear-cutting or century-old hydro dams — all officially “renewable” under the generous provisions of Virginia law. Dominion will scrounge up these old and dirty leftovers, package them up and put a green bow on them.
“Caveat emptor,” says the SCC with a shrug. The SCC seems to think anyone dumb enough to pay extra voluntarily deserves whatever they get.
This is not the first time the SCC has shown disregard for eco-conscious consumers. Four years ago it gave Dominion the nod for a program the company was calling “community solar,” which wasn’t actually selling any solar and had nothing to do with communities. Dominion never did roll out that program, perhaps because there was no way to market it without courting accusations of consumer fraud. But it had the SCC’s blessing for it!
(In case you are confused: this was before the company’s most recent iteration of community solar, also approved, also not actually community solar, and which we are still waiting for. Dominion executives could probably do with a thesaurus.)
In response to concerns that customers wouldn’t know what they are getting, the SCC order did impose one labeling requirement. Dominion’s marketing materials must “clearly identify the source of the RECs available for purchase under Rider REC (i.e., the less expensive of PJM Tier II RECs or national Green-e eligible RECs).”
Perhaps Dominion will even tell buyers what those things mean, though the SCC doesn’t seem to be saying it has to. In the interests of clarity, Dominion could explain that “PJM Tier II RECs” translates to “some stuff we found behind the refrigerator and think might still be edible.” But it probably won’t.
That’s because, just as with the old community solar thing, the problem is that if buyers understand what’s in it, they won’t be buyers.
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