Marin Energy Authority: Same Power, Just Greener

It's the biggest fallacy behind Marin Energy Authority's green energy — renewable energy certificates (RECs). MEA doesn't want to talk about it, and it doesn't want you to read this.

Much of what Marin Energy Authority sells you is knock-off green energy.  MEA declines to educate consumers about what’s going on behind its curtain.  This “same power, just greener” energy helps pay the quarter-million-dollar salary of its director, Dawn Weisz, and the $557,000 salaries of her two consultants. A clean energy illusion is not what MEA leadership promised to deliver to us.

The “same power, just greener” scheme revolves around renewable energy certificates (RECs) and brown power, mostly gas-fired generation.  Each REC is simply a receipt — its only purpose is to confirm that, yes, a renewable resource such as a wind farm in Washington, produced one megawatt hour of renewable energy  Each megawatt hour yields another REC.  

RECs are then delivered to regulatory accountants as proof of generation.  But some wind farms don’t care to report to regulators, so they sell their RECs to brokerage houses so that others might claim these zero-emissions.  This is when MEA’s same power, just greener gets into the act.  

See attached image.  

In a paper shuffle that’s reminiscent of a carnival shell game, MEA buys RECs and packages them with low-cost brown power, then sells that brown power to you as — voila! — “green” energy.  But the actual energy that flows to your electric socket is just as brown as ever.  MEA doesn’t tell you about this, or that its workhorse fleet of contract gas-fired power plants continues emitting carbon as always.  Ironically, many of these brown power resources also dispatch power on behalf of PG&E.   

However, while MEA reports its energy is green, PG&E identifies that its energy from the same plant/electric grid is brown.  MEA’s response?  A sultry voice that says “Look how clean we are.”  It’s a sad turn of events – our burgeoning MEA, once promising total transparency, now finessing its way around unknowing consumers.      

How did MEA stray so far off course?   

MEA was seduced by RECs.  MEA’s original Business Plan all but rejects them, committing to tangible renewable resources, while mentioning that it may “potentially” purchase RECs.  Unfortunately, after sampling RECs, MEA’s hunger is now voracious — since November its RECs purchases have increased 8,000 percent.  That’s enough to green-wash Marin’s entire residential electric load for about 8 months, a titanic amount of energy and a correspondingly huge illusion. 

MEA rationalizes this, claiming the cash flow from RECs stimulates construction of new renewables.  But developers, including wind farm constructors, say RECs have little influence on new development.  MEA touts its San Rafael airport solar project, but neglects to mention it requires 293 identical projects if it is going to displace 50 percent of its energy from Shell with genuine local renewables.  Best to “stimulate” Marin.     

MEA’s top executive Dawn Weisz now justifies her RECs appetite, saying “MEA isn’t trying to change the way the market buys renewables ... we aren’t changing it and we aren’t doing it differently from anyone else.” (footnote 1).  This Me too attitude undermines MEA’s genuine-renewables value and calls into question Ms. Weisz’s salary when considering an enterprising person with a home computer could buy enough RECs to make Marin instantly 100 percent “green” at a fraction of her pay scale.   

The biggest question remains for MEA’s Board: Does it truly believe REC-based energy is clean?   

If so, then it is perfectly green to build a gas-fired power plant in your respective Marin municipality, as long as you purchase offsetting RECs from companies and corporations around the world.  Now, try lobbying for the construction of this “clean energy” in your community — lowest cost, local, green, jobs — and watch yourself get voted out of office when your constituents awaken to the sham that is RECs.  

No doubt, it is best to keep the dirty part of “clean” energy outside of Marin.  If MEA wants to come clean about its outsourced emissions and the fallacy of its clean energy, it needs to cease using RECs, not rationalize their use.   

If MEA continues selling RECs to ratepayers then it should drop all pretense, purchase nothing but gas-fired + RECs for its energy portfolio, declare itself 100 percent “green,” and replace MEA staff with a REC broker.   

If MEA’s Board balks at this, then why not balk at how it currently sells REC-based green energy?  Apparently it is just fine for Marin “Clean” Energy to mislead consumers by mixing euphemisms such as green, clean, renewable, and renewable portfolio standard (RPS).  This is not to disregard that MEA also remains vague about energy delivery, failing to explain that all of its genuine renewable energy, located far from Marin, is NOT delivered to MEA ratepayers, and that ratepayers receive the exact same electron mix from the same wires as PG&E customers   

Here is what MEA needs to do to repair its credibility:   

MEA needs to stop using RECs.  It needs to focus exclusively on building ‘steel-in-ground’ Marin-based renewables as originally promised.  It needs to hire competent staff and find competent Board members. MEA can ill afford mismanagement such as that at its Rio Solar project.  http://meatruth.org/PDF/Enron.accounting_.pdf

MEA should not thumb its nose at the Sierra Club’s unanimous conclusion that landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) increases greenhouse gas emissions.  Rather than hide behind dated LFGTE policy, MEA needs to re-evaluate it decisions and take corrective action when credible organizations cite problems.  It doesn’t get more credible than the Sierra Club.  MEA’s 18-yr and 20-yr LFGTE contracts don’t pass the sniff test.    

MEA should stop using the Opt Out mechanism, switching unknowing, elderly, and busy consumers into this government program — many people object to how MEA helps itself to their checkbook.  Opt Out continues into perpetuity by defaulting rental turnovers and new home sales to MEA.  While California law allows for the mechanism, there is zero integrity in using it.  

Rebuilding trust with Marin will require a great deal of transparency.  This is counter to MEA’s culture, but it’s what MEA promised before its business launch.  If MEA truly wants to come clean, the best place to start is by cleaning its own house. 

Jim Phelps

MEA Opt Out (888) 632-3674



Point Reyes Light, published May 31, 2012

“We just aren’t trying to change the way the market buys, sells and uses renewable energy,” Ms. Weisz said. “We aren’t changing it and we aren’t doing it differently from anyone else.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Harold H. September 17, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Alex Bischoff September 17, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Bob - hope I did not sound confrontational - I agree with you. The additional information I refer relates to the bigger picture, re local/state/national demand for renewable energy. MEA is creating an additional market for people to require greener energy, This will result in additional renewable energy in the longer term, which will affect GHG. The complete picture is no short term advantage in REC's (they are paper) but they do create longer term implications at a national and global level. I think the idea of a county impacting climate is silly, and have said this to MEA. But it is not right to say it has no impact either!
Bob Ratto September 17, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Alex No worries at all. Given your obviously considerable level of expertise on this, is it off base to say that until MEA (or any other entity) brings online true renewable energy and demand is reduced for fossil fuels that there is no "net" impact on GHG's?...I get the whole longer term thing, as well as competition (which is good)...yes the idea of a City/County impacting climate is silly...but i guess it makes a lot of people somehow feel better about flipping on the light switch. Thanks for your post!
Pete Adams October 07, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Marin IJ letter on MEA antics: How many Marin residents have been slammed into the Marin Clean Energy program? The agency claims it spent me a letter that I never received. They said there would be no termination fee for a program I never signed up for. Then they robbed me when they would not reverse the charges for the current bill. Slammed and robbed by a group that is disguised as providing clean energy. Sign me up for the class action suit. Mark Stevens, Larkspur http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_21710510/marin-readers-forum-oct-6
Tina McMillan August 08, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Rico: Try that again. MEA didn't "pay back" the money because it is so successful; it refinanced the loans. Big difference.


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