PG&E Launches Voluntary Carbon Offset Plan

By Published On: June 29, 2007

Pacific Gas & Electric June 28 launched the nation’s first voluntary carbon offset program for utility customers to supposedly neutralize the greenhouse gas emissions from their electricity and natural gas consumption and reduce their carbon footprint. Customers who sign up for the ClimateSmart program will pay a small monthly premium in exchange for PG&E purchasing offsets from environmental projects in California that reduce, sequester, or prevent carbon dioxide produced by their energy use. PG&E customers can calculate their carbon emissions on the ClimateSmart web site prior to enrolling in the program. PG&E estimated that the average household in its Northern California service area produces 5.3 tons of CO2 a year from energy use and would pay less than $5 a month for the ClimateSmart program to offset its carbon emissions. PG&E said it would invest 100 percent of these funds in new projects in California that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. PG&E anticipates that 4 to 5 percent of its residential and business customers initially will enroll in the ClimateSmart program, which the California Public Utilities Commission approved in December. The utility forecast that its customers will invest $20 million in ClimateSmart during the first three years, removing two million tons of CO2 emissions, equal to taking 350,000 cars off the road for one year. PG&E has committed $1.5 million in shareholder funds over the next three years to make the energy use in the utility’s own buildings and facilities carbon neutral. PG&E opened formal competitive bidding and issued a Request for Offers for up to 250,000 tons of greenhouse gas offsets from forest preservation projects and projects that capture and convert methane gas from livestock manure into biogas. To qualify for ClimateSmart offsets, the projects must be located in California and be certified by the independent California Climate Action Registry, the state registry for greenhouse gas emission offsets. PG&E will select projects that invest in new greenhouse gas reductions that would not have otherwise occurred. The utility will calculate customers’ energy usage, invest in certified projects with verifiable environmental benefits, and be held accountable in return for a small monthly charge on their utility bills. “The last thing I want to do at the end of a busy day is to try and figure out which of these programs I want to sign up for,” said Wendy Pulling, PG&E’s director of environmental policy. Carbon offsets are under scrutiny, however, as some environmentalists and economists contend that the carbon sink they are supposedly buying may not work (Circuit, Jan. 12, 2007)

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