Climate… Smart? Really?

Our local paper, The Press Democrat, had an interesting article about PG&E’s new “voluntary” carbon offset program, ClimateSmart. I say voluntary in quotes because the program is, in fact, not voluntary.

One of the key criticisms of the project is that it is being advertised as voluntary, but in fact all ratepayers are paying the tab.

In order to keep the costs as low as possible, PG&E is spreading the $16.4 million in estimated administration and marketing costs over all ratepayers. This means even the average homeowner who doesn’t sign up for the program is still paying 2 cents to 4 cents a month to fund it.

I have no issue with the company transferring costs to all customers, but a few things really get at me:

  1. Is $16M for marketing and administration worth the estimated return on investment?  PG&E claims that part of the goal is education, but how is sending cards to customers letting them know about this “voluntary” project educating them about conservation?  Why not invest that $16M in true awareness campaigns?
  2. Couldn’t you have more potential impact if you offered voluntary renewable energy investments than offset projects? I think a lot more people would voluntarily pay $5, $10 or even more a month to purchase their energy from renewable sources.  The company would be able to raise a lot more money, me thinks, and use it to reduce its reliance on coal, oil and gas.
  3. Why pretend the program is voluntary?

PG&E launched the program back in June and thus far has only gotten about 1,600 households to sign up for the program.  This is in an area of relatively high consumer awareness and concern about global warming.  Perhaps these low numbers should serve as an indication that this program just doesn’t pass the smell test.

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