The following is a guest essay from Ted Rose. He is director of business development at Renewable Choice Energy, the company that makes the controversial Wind Power Cards sold at Whole Foods Market.
We here at Renewable Choice hoped the introduction of the Wind Power Card would spark a discussion. Well, mission accomplished. My only personal regret is that I’ve been so absorbed with the rollout of the product I haven’t had a chance to weigh in on the debate until now.
People have wondered why Renewable Choice introduced the Wind Power Card in the first place. That’s easy. The goal of the product — like everything else we do — is to provide choices that help move our country beyond fossil fuels.
In the case of the Wind Power Card, we’re taking on home electricity. For almost a hundred years, we’ve been taught that our electricity is invisible, cheap, and harmless. This is an example of what I’ve started calling dinosaur thinking — old logic that fits neatly with the interests of fossil fuel companies and hurts just about everyone else.
The truth, as most Grist readers know, is that our electricity is killing us. It’s producing air pollution and contributing to global warming. Lots of consumers — not just hard-core environmentalists — need to learn this and learn it quick. I believe they also need choices, easy choices, to do something about it. That’s why Renewable Choice made the Wind Power Card.
The Wind Power Card buys renewable energy credits that capture the premium cost and value of wind energy. There’s confusion about how this system works. Believe me, all of us would be happier if choosing wind power could be more tangible, like picking an organic apple instead of a conventional one. Unfortunately, electrons are more slippery than apples. If we want to support renewable energy and each claim our own chunk of wind power, renewable energy credits — or as we sometimes call them, wind energy credits — are the best deal going. And recently these credits have come of age. Big companies like Wells Fargo, Whole Foods Market, and Vail Resorts are buying them. They are also used by all 19 states employing a renewable portfolio standard to promote alternative energy development.
Some people have questioned the presentation of the Wind Power Card. After all, the "power" in the Wind Power Card is the renewable energy credits. The card itself is simply device — a device designed to end its life as a handsome refrigerator magnet.
The motivation was simple: we wanted to put this novel product in a package people would recognize. People are used to connecting plastic cards to a value beyond the plastic itself. We feel confident that any curious consumer who takes the time to read the back of the Wind Power Card will be able to determine the value of the product. That said, we’re dedicated to refining this presentation as we go to make the product as easy to comprehend as possible.
Others have maintained we should just call the Wind Power Card a donation. There’s a simple response to this: We don’t call it a donation, because it isn’t one. Each card purchases renewable energy credits, and there are only so many renewable energy credits to go around. These credits are a limited commodity, audited and verified by a third-party.
Some people can accept that, but they want to know how much money actually goes to the wind farm. That query sounds legitimate at first, but it falls prey to the same faulty logic as the donation question. Imagine asking the guy who sells you an organic apple to break down all of the expenses that he incurred to bring the apple to market: How much did you pay the guy who picked the apple? How much money did you spend on watering the apple tree? These are fine questions, but they are beside the point. The real question is: does the price of the apple work for you? Or to bring it back to the Wind Power Card: is it worth $15 a month to ensure that 750 kilowatts of electricity your family uses is replaced with wind power?
I believe there’s a deeper challenge lurking beneath the donation logic. It goes something like this: Okay, I get that I bear some responsibility for the electricity I pull off the grid and I see these credits can help meet that responsibility. But why would I want to pay for something that I don’t see and don’t get to enjoy? I wish I had a nifty answer to this one, but I don’t. To me, it strikes to the heart of the matter, the core piece of dinosaur thinking that must be surmounted to move into a culture of personal responsibility for energy consumption.
I honestly don’t know if this shift will happen — we may just leave it to companies and governments to do the work for us on their own timelines — but I can easily imagine a world in which it does. I can imagine a world where conscious consumers make buying renewable energy credits as basic a household commitment as buying organic produce or recycling.
If you feel called to meet this emerging responsibility in some other way, like paying your utility through a green pricing program, go for it. If you want to find the very best price for your renewable energy credits, shop around. (When you do, you’ll find the price customers pay for the Wind Power Card is pretty darn good: two cents a kilowatt hour.)
But in the end, as word of the Wind Power Card spreads, more and more conscious consumers will face a straightforward choice: Either you’re paying the premium to replace the energy you use with clean renewable energy — or you aren’t.