Concord’s electricity still 51 percent carbon emitting

January 19, 2023

In recent months, Concord Municipal Light Plant (CMLP) proudly communicated that electricity in Concord is close to 100 percent carbon free. In one way, they are right; in another, they are badly wrong.

According to CMLP’s own web page, Concord is still using 51 percent carbon-emitting sources. To counterbalance this, CMLP is buying “unbundled Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)” that give CMLP the right to claim an equal amount of clean energy production. Unbundled RECs are a complicated financial instrument that separates the claim of producing clean electricity from the produced electricity.

To understand this, let’s think about food: By eating vegetarian, you achieve two things: you get food, and you can claim that you ate vegetarian. Now imagine separating the food intake from the claim and allowing you to sell the claim that you ate vegetarian to someone else – let’s call this mechanism an “unbundled Vegetarian Credit.” Now someone else, who promised to eat vegetarian but just ate a big burger, approaches you and offers you a certain amount for the claim to have eaten vegetarian – you come to an agreement, and you transfer the “unbundled Vegetarian Credit” to the buyer. Consequently, the buyer can claim to be a vegetarian, although he ate a burger.

Unbundled RECs are doing just this with the claim of renewable power generation: although Concord continues to use 51 percent dirty energy sources, it buys claims for renewable power production. Unbundled RECs are a carbon accounting trick — carbon-emitting power sources are still consumed in Concord. Unfortunately, this trick is used to state that Concord’s electricity is carbon-free and to argue for increased electricity usage, which will continue the lifetime of carbon-emitting coal and gas power plants  as long as the electricity used is not emission-free.

Buying unbundled RECs is only a symbol, not a solution. Concord needs to eliminate any use of carbon-emitting sources for its electricity as soon as possible, either by increasing its own renewable energy production or buying more real renewable energy.

Sven Weber

Belknap Street