Daniel Press, environmental studies professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, tells Daniel Goldstein about the university's experience with buying renewable energy credits.

Press says his students had a great idea to do something about climate change and promoting renewable energy. He says the best way to do that was to buy RECs, which were billed as a way to offset the university's use of non-renewable power by funding renewable projects. He says the students voted to pay $9 each per year - at total of $100,000, to buy RECs. He says the EPA and the university touted the university as an example of moving toward green power.

But he became skeptical when he found out that the school's electric bill was $7 million, but $100,000 was supposed to offset the entire amount with renewable power. He says the company that sold the RECs was vague in its explanation of what the certificates actually paid for. He says the broker was actually selling the "environmental attributes" of the green power - not the green power itself.

The students became upset when they learned what was happening, so they voted again this year to stop paying for RECs and instead decided to pay for actual renewable projects and efficiency programs on campus.

Press says in the 90s, there were utilities that actually sourced their power to renewable projects, and signing up for green power meant customers were actually paying for renewable projects. He blames the change on brokers, the certifiers, EPA and the Department of Energy, who promote the use of RECs.

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