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Renewable Energy Certificates ("RECs")

Renewable energy certificates (RECs), also known as green certificates, green tags, or tradable renewable certificates, represent the environmental attributes of the power produced from renewable energy projects and are sold separate from commodity electricity. Customers can buy green certificates whether or not they have access to green power through their local utility or a competitive electricity marketer, and they can purchase green certificates without having to switch electricity suppliers.

RECs can be sold and traded or bartered, and the new owner of the REC can claim to have purchased renewable energy.  While traditional carbon emissions trading programs promote low-carbon technologies by increasing the cost of emitting carbon, RECs are an incentive for the promotion of carbon-neutral renewable energy by providing a production subsidy to electricity generated from renewable sources.  It is important to understand that the energy associated with a REC is sold separately and is normally used by another party. The consumer of a REC receives only a certificate, and not the actual energy produced, unless he purchases it separately.

In states that have a REC program, a green energy provider (such as a wind farm) is credited with one REC for every 1,000 kWh or 1 MWh of electricity it produces (for reference, an average residential customer consumes about 800 kWh in a month).  A certifying agency gives each REC a unique identification number to make sure it doesn't get double-counted.  The green energy is then fed into the electrical grid (by mandate), and the energy (and the accompanying REC) can then be sold on the open market

The United States Environmental Protection Agency claims to have the highest percentage use of green power of any federal agency.  In 2007, it offset the electricity use of 100% of its offices.  The Air Force is the largest purchaser in the US government in absolute terms, purchasing 899,142 MWH worth of RECs.  Among colleges and universities, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia is the largest purchaser of RECs, buying 192,727 MWH of RECs from wind power.  The corporate leader is Intel, with 1,302,040 MWH purchased in 2007, and the largest purchaser among retailers is Whole Foods, which purchased 509,104 MWH, or enough RECs to offset 100% of its electricity needs.


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