Of course, the electricity powering my wife's electric toothbrush is not actually 100 percent green, but derived from a soup of sources including coal, methane gas, oil, large hydro-electric, nuclear power, solar, wind, geothermal, small hydro and anaerobic digestion of cow poop, among others. However, through a convoluted digital tool called the Renewable Energy Certificate (REC), I can now lay claim to purchasing the beneficent environmental attributes of an amount of renewable energy exactly equal to what we use at home. Simple as that. Easy-peasy.
Yes, it is, and so is born another blog for another day.
Now, an aggregator can't buy RECs before a facility starts churning out green energy, but it can contractually promise to buy a developer's future RECS -- a promise, I'm told, that frees up capital for said construction. Got it? Also, the act of buying these RECs keeps them out of the grasping hands of your local utility -- Eversource, in these parts -- and that matters because in many states utilities are required to purchase a certain percentage of renewable energy (23 percent in Massachusetts, in 2023) in order to comply with the ever-increasing Renewable Portfolio Standard. Town REC purchases lower the supply of renewable energy sources with RECs for sale, thereby, again I'm told, incentivizing Eversource to finance or scrounge for new sources of renewable energy. Conceptually, that is. Theoretically.
All right, here comes the tricky part. There are two kinds of RECs, bundled and unbundled, and the unbundled ones arrive without any actual energy from the renewable energy source that sold you the RECs in the first place. Some critics say unbundled RECs lead to little or no Additionality (new green energy sources) and are prime examples of greenwashing. See how unbundled RECs are potentially dubious in this interesting, for energy nerds, article.
I'll just have to accept that for now, I RECkon.
P.S. Several days later I heard back from my industrious contact at GECA. My RECs, indeed, are unbundled, "but they are from New England generation, so they have a positive impact on our grid." She continued: "What we don’t like is when a company in New England buys cheap unbundled RECs from Texas or some other place where the supply of RECs far exceeds the demand for RECs. Buying those RECs doesn’t change the market. No one in Texas is building projects to earn money from selling the RECs to New England, but they will happily take the money."
Regarding Eversouce's accountability to the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard, mentioned above): "If they cannot find enough RECs, they...have to pay an Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) to the state. The state then uses that money to pay for clean energy projects." Okay, the acronyms are really piling up here, so I will leave the question of whether it's cheaper to pay an ACP than follow the RPS to a DFF (Day in the Far Future).