DTE used money provided by more than 14,000 customers in the utility’s “GreenCurrents” program to purchase “Renewable Energy Credits” at the Harvest Wind Farm in Huron County. One problem: the RECs available at the wind farm were also claimed by Wolverine Power, an electric cooperative based in Cadillac.
Researchers at the Ecology Center and consumer advocates are calling for a refund for DTE’s GreenCurrents customers as well as a redesign of the program so that it directly buys renewable energy.
“The bottom line is GreenCurrents customers paid over $750,000 in premiums for renewable energy in 2008 that was also claimed by Wolverine,” according to David Wright, the Ecology Center’s clean-energy program director. The possibility exists that Wolverine also sold output to other organizations which have not publicly announced their purchases, so the total overcounting is unknown. The Michigan Public Service Commission needs to address the double counting.”
Wright believes that GreenCurrents customers are likely unaware that contributions to the program are used to buy financial instruments called “renewable energy credits,” not to buy power.
GreenCurrents is a DTE program that solicits voluntary contributions from the utility’s customers. Last year, the Ecology Center sent letters about the double-counting issue to the Michigan Public Service Commission as well as to the Center for Resource Solutions, which is supposed to verify REC claims.
“RECs are issued to renewable energy developers as a bonus for the positive environmental attributes of their product,” he said. The actual electricity generated is the key product for clean energy developers, and their RECs are sold separately.
DTE’s GreenCurrents program buys the RECs instead of electricity, according to Wright. “DTE customers have been paying in good faith for a wind project in the Thumb, but the power and RECs are also being claimed by Wolverine Power,” he said.
“This double-counting of RECs shows the vulnerabilities of relying on a commodities trading scheme instead of actually buying clean energy,” Wright said. “DTE should issue a complete refund of all customer money that went to buy these pieces of paper, and offer customers a true green option.”
In 2008, Wolverine Power claimed the full output and attributes of the Harvest Wind Farm in their annual report. “We set a new Michigan wind energy record in 2008, purchasing all 122,254 megawatt hours generated by Harvest.” DTE claimed ownership to a fraction of the same renewable energy in a November 2008 press release.
Last week, Wright was notified that Wolverine has revised the claims on their website regarding the Harvest Wind RECs in 2008 and 2009, and pulled their 2008 annual report from the site.
“The revised claims clearly prove our point that Wolverine Power Cooperative sold double-counted RECs in 2008 and 2009, but instead of addressing the situation forthrightly, Wolverine is now retroactively reducing the amount of wind energy they provided to their distribution cooperative members in 2008 and 2009 – without even telling them what’s happening,” Wright said. “The shell games need to stop.
“It also makes clear our main point, that the entire system of buying and selling renewable energy credits is seriously flawed and needs to be ended now,” he said. What we’re really asking is for the MPSC to do a public accounting: they are the ones who approved these programs, and it’s their responsibility to oversee them.”