What Is a Renewable Energy Certificate?

What Is a Renewable Energy Certificate?


Have you ever wondered, when you turn on your
lights, where that electricity is coming from? In the United States, most electricity comes
from coal, natural gas, and nuclear; and some renewable sources, like hydropower, wind,
and solar. No matter where electricity is generated, it is mixed together on the shared
electricity grid. When you turn on your lights or TV, you pull some of that electricity out. Once electricity is put on the grid, there
is no way to know where it came from or how it was generated, all electricity is the same.
If you want to green your power, though, you can do that with renewable energy certificates.
These certificates are created each time one megawatt-hour of renewable energy is generated
and put on the grid, about what an average home uses in a month. The wind turbine spins,
or the solar panel collects sunlight, and when enough electricity is generated, a certificate
is created. This certificate proves that one megawatt hour of renewable energy was generated,
and it embodies all the green, environmental benefits of that megawatt-hour—including
lower amounts of smog-causing pollution and greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide. All
of these benefits are included in the certificate. Whoever owns the certificate owns that megawatt-hour
of renewable energy. Certificates are used by states and the federal
government to track use of renewable energy. They’re also used by utility green power
programs to track which customers receive green power, because certificates provide
the only means to know that one megawatt hour of renewable energy was generated on their
behalf. When an individual or business buys a certificate, they are buying renewable energy,
and can claim all the environmental benefits of that megawatt-hour. Certificates also allow
wind and solar developers to build wherever the resources are, knowing they will be supported
by customers from across the country. Renewable energy certificates work because
cleaner air and water are worth something extra to all of us, and certificates allow
us to buy these environmental benefits no matter where we live. They help bring us that
much closer to true energy independence—power from the sun, wind, and water. And that makes
the future brighter for all of us.

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