DOVER – They’re not exactly money, and they’re not a direct government handout.
But they are seen as the state-backed boost that solar and wind energy need to compete with power generated from fossil fuels in the coming decade.
Trouble is, they may be the next target for Delaware tea party activists, who see them as wasteful government intervention into the free market system that just end up costing consumers more for electricity.
They’re renewable energy credits, or RECs. Owners of a wind or solar system, big or small, get one for every unit of energy they generate. The credits can be sold on the open market, including to utilities that need them to help satisfy state requirements that a set percentage of the power they provide be obtained from renewable energy sources.
In Delaware, each electric utility is required to buy 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted renewable energy purchase requirements, and Congress is considering some kind of nationwide requirement.
Utilities can satisfy the state requirements with the renewable electricity itself, or the credits.
Delaware and local solar industry officials are increasingly looking to the credits – and gradually away from lump-sum government subsidies – as the best way to make solar power accessible to the masses.
But in a charged political climate, some see the credits as no different from a direct government subsidy.
“Every time a solar panel goes up, we pay for it,” said John Nichols, a self-described “citizen activist” and a member of the First State Patriots. “If you want to put a solar panel on your roof, or a turbine in your backyard, and you don’t create a noise problem, you should be allowed to do it and sell the energy back to the grid. But I don’t want to subsidize it.”
He’s backing an effort to repeal the state’s renewable energy purchase requirements, as well as its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state program that includes Delaware, to reduce carbon emissions that also generates funds the state uses to help underwrite energy-efficiency programs.
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