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Our Take on the California Climate Credit

energy-upgrade-california-climate-credit-stay-goldenThe Climate Credit is a feature of California’s Cap and Trade law that encourages utilities and their customers to reduce CO2 emissions. Not unlike the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, it’s a smart, two-pronged policy that will reduce CO2 both where it’s produced (in this case, electricity generation) and consumed (home/business incentives for energy efficiency upgrades). You can do your part by using your Climate Credit to make your home more energy efficient, and then offsetting your unavoidable CO2 footprint which still remains.

Who’s Behind The CA Climate Credit

Energy Upgrade California is the state-run program that is behind the Climate Credit promotions, and they offer a wide variety of information on climate, energy, conservation, rebates/incentives, and financing. We ran into them at the 2014 Sea Otter Classic bike festival in Monterey, California. Amidst the madness of every imaginable type of biking event, an expo with all the latest bike-related wares, and a lovely network of beer gardens, we came across residential solar installers The Solar Company as well as Energy Upgrade California.

Both offer tangible, important, and accessible things Californians can do about climate change. We’ve endorsed them in our carbon footprint reduction tips, mentioning ‘going solar’ in general, and Energy Upgrade California by name. Energy Upgrade California’s booth had super-cool “green screen” gadgetry that creates fun and personalized promotional e-posters to share with your friends. (Note to self for future COTAP promotional efforts!).

Utilities Pay For CO2 Pollution

Whenever we talk about what you can do about climate change, we mention advocating for clean energy, reducing your personal CO2 emissions, and offsetting your emissions that you haven’t yet eliminated. The California Climate Credit represents a mix of the first two things. In a nutshell, power plants pay for putting carbon pollution into the air (much more about that here). The proceeds go into two buckets. The first of these is for utilities to use for lowering their CO2 pollution. That will reduce Californians’ carbon footprints because California utilities will generate less CO2 pollution per kilowatt-hour (kwh) that they produce. As information about utilities’ lowered CO2 per kwh becomes available, it’ll be factored into COTAP’s CO2 calculator, resulting in fewer emitted tonnes for the same home kwh consumption input figures.

A Rebate for Individuals & Businesses To Get Greener

The other bucket is the Climate Credit given to individuals and businesses, a rebate they can use however they want. Energy Upgrade California wants you to use it, in conjunction with their other significant incentives, to reduce your kwh consumption by swapping out your inefficient furnace or water heater, updating duct work, sealing leaky window frames, and installing more and better insulation.

We agree. We think this is a smart, two-pronged set of incentives that attacks both the carbon pollution generated by California’s electrical grid, as well as the demand for electricity by individuals and businesses. Further, it spreads awareness and is a smart model that can be replicated elsewhere in the U.S. and beyond.

That said, important questions remain. Will the California Climate Credit will be enough to kick-start our state’s residential efficiency program, that’s off to a bit of a slow start? Will it be cost-effective in the long run for driving down electricity use, and competitive with incentives for individuals and businesses to go solar? What’s a fair amount of time for the program to prove itself?

Voluntarily Offsetting Your Still-Unavoidable CO2 Footprint

And where does voluntary carbon offsetting by individuals and businessesfit into all of this? That is one of the least complicated questions to answer. When you use electricity from the grid, you’re creating CO2 pollution, and carbon offsets are the market-based tool for paying others for the service of removing that pollution. Laws like AB32 and programs like the California Climate Credit mean that Californians will have less of a footprint to offset, which is a good thing.

Still, the case for carbon offsetting is going to be around for the foreseeable future. Why? First, the Climate Credit is only a California thing. Second, for the foreseeable future you’ll still have an unavoidable carbon footprint from home energy use regardless of where you live. And third, this only applies to one’s carbon footprint from home energy consumption and excludes emissions from driving and air travel.

And as before, COTAP plays multiple important roles which include, but are not limited to 1) responsibly promoting carbon offsetting as something that should be done alongside footprint reduction and clean energy policy advocacy 2) offering a set of meaningful, inspiring, and accountable carbon offset projects which create a multifaceted set of benefits for the world’s most vulnerable people, and 3) maintaining an updated, transparent, and thoroughly-documented carbon calculator which combines cleaner electrical grids with decreasing energy consumption to accurately calculate home energy carbon footprints which we hope will be rapidly decreasing.

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