Carbon Offset Companies Criticized, TerraPass Responds

by | Mar 21, 2007

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A close look at several carbon offset transactions – including those involving the Oscar presenters and Vail Resorts – reveals that some deals amount to little more than feel-good hype, Business Week reports.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offsets were issued by TerraPass, a company that identifies climate-protection efforts and, for a fee, gives its customers the opportunity to buy renewable energy certificates.

One of TerraPass’s largest offset projects is a methane-burning garbage dump in Arkansas from which TerraPass has purchased thousands of tons of gas reductions.

But the article argues that the methane burning system was launched long before any promise of carbon-offset sales, making it appear that the main effects of the TerraPass offsets are to salve guilty celebrity consciences and provide the dump’s operators with extra revenue.

TerraPass has responded to the article, saying that it will conduct a review of the landfill gas project. “We’re conducting this review to reaffirm that the Tontitown project is a worthwhile recipient of our members’ funds, and we are doing it in full public view. All of the source documents we collect, all of the interviews we conduct, all of our own notes will be posted to a publicly accessible web site. Anybody can review them and send questions or feedback.”

At the end of the week, TerraPass says it will write up the results of its review and present them to a panel of experts on carbon markets and climate change. It is making all of its project review documents, the working version of the report that it will hand over to the panel, and all the details of how the review process will work, available here

The company has also posted numerous responses to the article on its blog. One of those blog entries, says that “Determining additionality – the notion that projects would not have happened if not for the purchase of offsets – is hard, and we’re liable to make mistakes. Not all of the science or the policy is settled. We’re a young company in a young industry with a lot of promise. But, if the industry is to be a part of solving climate change, we must get this right.”

Another REC buyer is Vail Resorts, which declares in marketing material that it is “100% powered by wind.” But Vail hasn’t built wind turbines. It buys RECs equivalent to its annual electricity use.

Vail’s broker, Renewable Choice Energy, declined to identify any of the wind project investments it makes on behalf of Vail Resorts for Business Week. Nor did Vail or Renewable Choice Energy discuss the price of the RECs.

“If neither a seller of RECs nor the buyer will provide any details of how, exactly, their transaction is reducing carbon emissions, I would suspect it’s vaporware,” says Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, an Aspen, Colorado nonprofit that promotes renewable energy.

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