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Green Electricity: It's in the Eye of the Beholder

Fortnightly Magazine - February 15 1998

annual average percentage of electricity supplied, per fuel, or the anticipated mix, when a customer requests the information, when a supplier first enters an agreement with a customer, and "as soon as possible when a significant change occurs in energy sources." Suppliers would not be allowed to use the term "green" or make claims that energy sources benefit the environment; instead, suppliers would make a reference to "renewable resources," as defined in 66 C.S.Pa.Code 2803. John Frasier, a PUC spokesman, says the proposal was forwarded to the Attorney General and budget offices in early December.

(Note: In interim rules, issued July 10, 1997, the Pennsylvania PUC had listed six conditions for any power marketing claims of "green" or "environmentally friendly" power, also expressing a preference for the term "renewable energy. At that time it had required a specific breakdown by resource (em e.g., wind, biomass, etc. See, m-00960890, 180 PUR4th 61.)

A California Case Study

Electricity customers in California will have several resources to turn to that can help them make sense of the disclosure and "green" puzzles.

SB 1305, which Gov. Pete Wilson (R) signed on Oct. 8, requires generators to report consumption by fuel type to the independent system operator on a quarterly basis. The ISO then will make that information available to the California Energy Commission to verify and to certify a generator's mix as renewable. The CEC is authorized to access similar data for out-of-state generators. Working with the state's Air Resources Board, the CEC also will report on air emission effects of electric restructuring by June 1, 1999.

Retail suppliers must disclose to both potential and actual customers whether their power is "net system power" or whether it comes from other sources. Interestingly, this disclosure provision does not apply to "advertisements and notices in general circulation media." (SB 1305, Sec. 398.4(b).)

John Schaefer, president of one new market entrant, Clean Power Works, admits, though, that when he explains to potential customers that since electrons can't be tagged the customer has to rely on the contractual promise of generators, "You bet there's some doubt about that. People are skeptical."

California consumers can also look for companies that display the Green-e logo, a part of the Green-e Renewable Electricity Branding Program, created by the San Francisco-based Center for Resource Solutions (see Public Utilities Fortnightly, Nov. 15, 1997, p. 14). Besides requiring at least a 50-percent renewable energy supply for qualification, this voluntary certification program also requires marketers to disclose resources, says program manager Kirk Brown. The program uses the definition of "renewables" that is reflected in Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, Brown says (i.e., sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectricity that is less than or equal to 30 megawatts).

Edison International's EarthSource product is one of the Green-e participants listed in a new Internet site unveiled last month by the Environmental Defense Fund ( The site notes that EDF endorses the concept of electricity labeling and one section shows a probable state-by-state breakdown of electricity sources and pollutant emissions, based on monthly electricity costs.