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Dear Therman: Tell Me More about Renewable Energy Credits

Dear Therman:

I try to do small things every day to help the environment. I recycle. I use Energy Star appliances in my home, and I carpool to work most days to save on fuel. But I’d like to do more to reduce my carbon footprint, and that’s brought me to the idea of renewable energy credits, which I know you’re no stranger to, Therman. Are renewable energy credits the same as carbon credits? Can you tell me more about how they work? And where did they come from?

Signed,

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Dear WASTE NOT:

Renewable energy credits (RECs) are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. They’re not quite the same as carbon credits, but they’re in the same ballpark.

Carbon credits help to offset carbon emissions made by industries and countries. RECs, on the other hand, offset the electricity made through non-renewable means, such as at a coal-fired power plant. RECs represent the electricity made by renewable sources like solar and wind. They can be bought by businesses and homeowners alike.

They first came on the scene in the late 1990s as more and more states began requiring that a certain amount of the energy used there come from renewable sources. Today, there are 29 states with such rules—known as renewable portfolio standards (RPS).

Of course, not everyone had direct access to renewable energy back then. And many still don’t today, which is why RECs were invented. They make it possible for customers anywhere to buy electricity made by a renewable source, even if that source is nowhere nearby. “Green” energy made at a windfarm on the West Coast can offset the energy made from fossil fuels on the East Coast. RECs help track that usage, too, and buying them helps support the growth of renewable energy markets.

If we keep it up, experts say renewable energy sources will account for 80 percent of America’s power production by 2050.

I hope that helps you in your quest to go green,

Therman

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