Going to take just a few minutes away from work to respond to a post at Boing Boing (via Strange New Products) about Whole Foods' new wind power cards. First a disclaimer: Shea's one of the founders of Renewable Choice Energy, the company selling the wind credits on the cards, and he and I will soon be working together on a different project. Secondly, he informed me of Boing Boing's post. After reading it, though, it was clear that the writers at both blogs were throwing bombs at a product and concept they don't understand.
I've discussed offsets and green tags many times here, and have even suggested that they could create perceptions like the ones offered at Boing Boing and Strange New Products. Those perceptions are just that, though -- everything I've seen shows me that the sale of green tags is perfectly legitimate, and that they create an opportunity for consumers to offset their carbon-producing energy use with a clean source of power.
The writers at these two blogs suggest that purchasing a Whole Foods wind power card amounts to "free money" for RCE.
RCE, however, is obligated to use the money consumers spend in support of wind power projects. The credits RCE sells are certified by Green-e, a very reputable organization about which I've blogged on numerous occasions. When consumers purchase these cards, or other renewable power credits, they get the knowledge that clean energy is being produced in the amounts for which they paid. Yes, this doesn't mean that a person who buys a card gets wind-generated power directed to his/her house. What it does mean it that clean power is being has been delivered to the grid which powers all of our homes and businesses. (Note: please see my corrections to these statements -- JM-S).
RCE has a thorough FAQ that the writers at Boing Boing and Strange New Products would benefit from reading. Lack of understanding is one thing; bomb-throwing is another. Labeling RCE "Enron-like" has all sorts of negative associations that have nothing to do with its business model -- these writers know that. Thinly-veiled accusations of fraud are definitely over the top -- especially when it's clear that these writers haven't done their homework. By extension, they've labeled Whole Foods, the University of Michigan, Duke University, Sprint, and the cities of Los Angeles and Atlanta as dupes. Given the overall high quality of the writing at both blogs, I would've expected better.
For many people, the purchase of credits is the only way they have to support renewable energy. Criticism is fine, but that criticism needs to be informed. One thing I might suggest to RCE: post more information about the projects the company supports. If consumers can go to the company's site and see these wind farms, they'll have that much more confidence in its products.
UPDATE: I've already gotten one email saying I didn't go far enough in explaining how green tags work. So, let me point you to a post of Shea's, as he's the real expert on these things...