Since my first post dissing PG&E’s offset program, I’ve had phone calls with PG&E, NRDC, 2 calls with members of PG&E’s ClimateSmart External Advisory Group, plus a call with a forestry expert who consults with those who oversee the van Eck forest, which is featured on the “Our Projects” page of the ClimateSmart website. I have four basic conclusions:
1) I still think, in general, the vast majority of electric utilities should not be in the business of selling their customers offsets like trees (as opposed to selling them energy efficiency and renewable power).
2) PG&E is perhaps a special case since state regulations have driven them to be a leader on both energy efficiency and renewables. This is an important point, since many other utilities are looking to PG&E’s program as a model but, I doubt groups like NRDC would be thrilled to see most U.S. utilities adopt a similar program.
3) But trees are still lousy offsets (even offset seller Terrapass thinks so), and PG&E was wrong to start by emphasizing forestry offsets and especially wrong to feature the van Eck forest on their website. They have modified their website slightly — they still feature only trees as offset projects but say the van Eck forest is “shown for illustrative purposes as the type of project that may be eligible for the ClimateSmart competitive selection process” — now that’s the kind of nano-success for Climate Progress that makes all this blogging worthwhile!
4) To customers for most U.S. utilities who want to become “climate neutral,” I would recommend A) doing all cost-effective energy efficiency, B) purchasing 100% renewable power or — if renewable power is unavailable in your area — renewable energy credits or green tags, and C) Buying offsets for your remaining emissions.