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Boulder company stops certifying green programs

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) ” In dozens of shops and restaurants around Boulder, customers can find signs proclaiming “This Business Is Wind Powered” above the logo for local company Clean and Green.

The whole idea may strike some customers as counterintuitive ” after all, where are the windmills? Clearly, not on the roof, not in the yard and not even in the city limits. It’s possible the windmills aren’t even in Colorado.

Clean and Green is one of many brokers in the United States selling renewable energy credits, or RECs, which allow customers with no direct access to wind power to buy the environmental benefits of renewable energy produced elsewhere. But at the end of last year, the Boulder-based company dropped its nationally recognized certification that lets customers know they’re actually getting what they’re buying.

Buying RECs helps financially support renewable energy, allowing startup wind and solar companies to compete more easily with traditional coal- and gas-fired power plants.

To assure customers that their money is actually going to new renewable energy development, and that the RECs are not being double sold, many companies have sought validation from the country’s major third-party certifier, Green-e.

“One of the main points of Green-e is transparency for the consumers,” said Jeff Swenerton, communications director for the certification program. “We make sure consumers can find out where their energy came from. It has to be real and verified.”

Clean and Green has no problem with the certification program, Executive Director Gerry Dameron said, but couldn’t justify the cost anymore.

“We called Green-e and said, ‘Look, we appreciate what you guys do, and we’d love to be Green-e certified in the future, but we can’t afford all the fees,” he said. “We can’t afford to spend $6,000 a year. Our company has never made a profit, and I’ve never drawn a salary, not one dime.”

But for some of Clean and Green’s customers, the certification is essential, similar to companies that must be certified to legally label their products organic.

“I think ” not knowing a lot about the industry ” that the Green-e certification is a strong brand and it’s important to be certified,” said Blake Jones, president of Namaste Solar Electric, which has used Clean and Green to offset all of its vehicle miles and electricity not produced by solar. “I’m thinking, ‘Hey wait a minute, this is kind of a basic thing, like the organic food label.”‘

Jones said Namaste also has struggled with the extra fees to get a product certified by a third party. The company is trying to check all the necessary boxes so its new building in north Boulder can be LEED certified, the nationally recognized stamp that a building is reliably “green.”

“We could probably have taken the $25,000 the certification is costing us and put on a much bigger solar array, but we thought it was important to pay the money and get the label as long as that brand has substance and is not hollow,” said Jones, who said he will now look elsewhere to buy RECs for Namaste.

Clean and Green’s Dameron says his product hasn’t changed, and that the only difference is the money and time he’s saving.

“There’s a very elaborate and expensive process that they require,” he said. “It’s a way that the industry is culling out the small providers. It’s becoming more and more a corporate game.”

The folks at Green-e don’t dispute the certification is difficult, but they’re not apologizing, either.

“The Green-e certification ” it really is a pain,” said Swenerton, the company representative. “But that’s part of the point. If it were an easy certification, it wouldn’t mean anything to the consumer.”

The number of companies earning the Green-e certification ” including Xcel Energy’s Windsource program and local REC broker Renewable Choice Energy ” is growing by leaps and bounds, according to Swenerton. But every year, a few drop out.

“It’s a self-selecting group,” he said. “It’s an onerous process, and sometimes people decide not to continue.”

In the past, Clean and Green has been a major player in the city of Boulder’s Wind Challenge, a drive to encourage individuals and businesses to purchase wind power. But this year’s challenge, which will start later this spring, will leave out the Boulder company.

“We will not include Clean and Green unless they are Green-e certified,” said Sarah Van Pelt, environmental sustainability coordinator for Boulder. “Because there is so much confusion and fraud in the market, having a third-party certification in critical.”

With or without certification, most companies are likely doing the right thing, according to Ted Martens, director of outreach and development for Sustainable Travel International in Boulder, a company that helps travelers offset their environmental impacts responsibly.

“People who are not doing it right are making a bad name for people who are doing it right,” he said. “There are certainly credible offset providers out there that are making a quantifiable difference.”

Buying a renewable energy credit allows an individual or business to financially support wind energy even if it is not available locally. The credits technically represent the environmental benefits of using renewable energy instead of traditionally produced power.

One renewable energy credit is created for each kilowatt-hour of energy generated from a wind farm. Those credits are often sold by the wind farm to a third-party broker like Clean and Green.

Businesses or residents who buy the same number of kilowatt-hours’ worth of renewable energy credits as they use each month often say they are 100 percent wind-powered. The electricity they are using, however, probably comes from traditional sources, such as coal or natural gas.

Clean and Green’s executive director, Gerry Dameron, says that 135 businesses have signed up to buy wind energy through the company.


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