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US agency urges Vt. utility to better explain carbon-credit policy

MONTPELIER — The Federal Trade Commission will not open a formal investigation into Green Mountain Power’s marketing of renewable energy, but it is cautioning Vermont’s largest power company to be clear in its communications with the public.

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School had complained to the federal agency in September that GMP was making claims in Vermont about power coming from renewable sources, when credits for reducing carbon pollution are being sold out-of-state.

The result, said Kevin Jones, a professor at the law school, is both a higher carbon footprint for Vermont and higher costs for ratepayers.


He took aim at a state program known as SPEED, which allows Vermont utilities to meet goals for building renewable power while selling pollution-reduction credits for that power to utilities elsewhere.

‘‘From an environmental and electric rate [perspective], the SPEED program has been a failure,’’ Jones said.

Green Mountain Power does not see it that way. ‘‘GMP is proud of its leadership accelerating the adoption of renewables, while keeping costs low for Vermonters by selling [credits], and helping Vermont become a national leader in clean energy,’’ company spokeswoman Kristin Carlson said.

Darren Springer, deputy commissioner of the state Public Service Department, also said Jones is not acknowledging the benefits of the state’s current renewables law.

Jones said the solar projects encouraged under the law are more expensive than other types of power.

Springer countered, saying solar is a plentiful bargain when it is needed most — on hot summer days when wholesale power prices spike. He said more distributed power generation has stemmed the need for costly grid upgrades.

Springer also emphasized the regionwide benefit when southern New England utilities buy Vermont renewable power. Vermont is connected to a New England-wide grid that has become greener overall, he said.


But Jones and other critics have complained for years that Vermont utilities have been touting their development of renewable energy to Vermonters while selling the credits to utilities elsewhere.

If an out-of-state utility is buying a credit equal to a ton of carbon reduction, Vermont’s power companies should not be bragging to ratepayers about green power generation in-state, Jones maintains.

The Federal Trade Commission made clear that its staff had found that the company can do a better job.

“Although no findings have been made that these claims violate the law, we urge GMP in the future to prevent any confusion by clearly communicating the implications of its REC sales for Vermont customers and REC purchasers,’’ said a Feb. 5 letter from the FTC to a Green Mountain lawyer.