Green Mountain Power is being accused of deceptive trade practices over its renewable energy claims.
In a petition filed with the Federal Trade Commission, a group of Vermont residents says the utility is “misleading and harming Vermont electricity consumers” by marketing renewable power to Vermonters and also selling credits for the renewable energy to out-of-state power suppliers.
Green Mountain Power dismisses the allegations as baseless.
“Anybody can ask the FTC to investigate anything,” company spokesperson Dorothy Schnure said in a written statement. She said GMP’s protocols follow prohibitions against double-counting renewable generation, and that communications with customers are clear.
Kevin Jones, a professor of energy technology and policy at Vermont Law School, said Green Mountain Power’s marketing is false, and the state law that permits it is fundamentally flawed.
“This is most significant form of utility green-washing I have ever seen in my life,” Jones said.
Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic filed the petition pro bono on behalf of Jones and three other Vermont residents: Bruce Post, a writer and former congressional staffer; Rep. Curt McCormack, D-Burlington; and Charles W. Johnson, an author and Vermont’s state naturalist. The petition asks the FTC to investigate GMP’s practices and take action if it finds the claims to be deceptive.
The group says GMP should either market its electricity to Vermont customers as renewable, or sell renewable energy credits to out-of-state producers. To do both is to sell the same thing twice, Jones said.
Instead of providing all of the renewable energy from its wind or solar projects to Vermont residents, GMP purchases “brown” power from fossil fuel, coal and nuclear sources outside the state, he said.
But Green Mountain Power markets its sales to Vermont customers as renewable, he said, in violation of FTC rules.
“The fundamental problem is people are believing Vermont’s law has resulted in reduction of Vermont’s carbon emissions – but in reality it’s actually increased Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Jones said.
Schnure said Green Mountain Power is up-front with customers about selling its Renewable Energy Credits, or RECs. The sale of the credits allows the company to reduce rates by up to 5 percent, she said.
“VLS has provided an inaccurate portrait of our communications,” Schnure said. “For example, a quick read shows that they cite only a portion of a fact sheet that actually includes a complete explanation of the REC sales. It also references our Rutland Solar Education Center, for which we do not sell the RECs, and so we rightly claim the power produced there is renewable.”
Jones said his group contends there is a larger issue at stake.
“There’s a culture of deception that’s developed around Vermont’s renewable energy laws,” Jones said. “Fundamentally there is something really bad happening here.”
Vermont statutes are unique in allowing a company to sell its energy as renewable to retail customers and sell the value of its renewable energy as credits to other producers, Jones said. Connecticut recently passed a law prohibiting the practice, he said.
Patrick Parenteau, senior counsel with the law clinic, said there is no deadline for action by the FTC in response to the petition. Next steps may depend on GMP’s response, he said.
“We will monitor it and follow up if we don’t hear anything in a month,” he said. “We hope some legislators may be interested in pursuing reforms in the next legislative session. We’ll look to Curt McCormack for advice on what we might do to advance the ball there.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding