At the recent Sea Otter Classic bike festival in Monterey, California, there was every imaginable type of biking event, an expo where all the latest bike-related wares were on display, and a lovely network of beer gardens which seemed to glue everything together.
In the middle of the mostly bike-related expo madness were booths for residential solar installers The Solar Company as well as Energy Upgrade California, the state-run program that offers rebates and information for homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Both of these organizations offer tangible, important, and accessible things Californians can do about climate change. We’ve endorsed both in our recommendations for how to reduce your carbon footprint, mentioning ‘going solar’ in general, and Energy Upgrade California by name.
We’re compelled to draw your attention to Energy Upgrade California again, and not just because their 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!) No, the reason we’re sharing this is because they are behind all the recent promotions you’ve seen for the new California Climate Credit.
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 basically 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.
The other bucket is about reducing those kwh consumption input figures – it’s for businesses and individuals and it’s essentially a rebate they can use however they want. Energy Upgrade California wants you to use it, in conjunction with their other significant incentives, to improve the energy efficiency of your home by doing things like 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?
And where does COTAP fit 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.