SRECs are an abstract concept with concrete green marketing implications

Solar renewable energy certificates carry crucial implications for corporate green messaging. A panel at Solar Power International 2018 discussed the importance of educating solar customers about the ways their marketing must change based on who owns the SRECs on their roofs.

According to epa.gov, a renewable energy certificate (REC) is a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation. Solar RECs (SRECs) are created for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated from solar energy systems.

SRECs are a pretty abstract concept for the average person to think about when installing solar, said Jennifer Martin, executive director of the Center for Resource Solutions. That’s why it’s important for solar companies to take charge of educating its clients about them.

SRECs allow a unique claim on renewable energy, said Maya Kelty, senior manager of regulatory affairs for 3Degrees Group. SRECs convey two values–they’re required by the FTC for renewable energy marketing, and they also have monetary value. If a utility sells its SRECs, it can’t market that its customers are receiving renewable energy, Kelty said. In the C&I sector, if a company installs solar but sells its SRECs, it cannot claim it is going solar or reducing corporate carbon emissions.

Kelty said the bottom line is accurate and clear public messaging about renewable energy purchases can add value and is encouraged. But inaccurate representation is “REC-less” (one point for the pun.)

The Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides define the rules around renewable energy marketing language. If a company has solar on its roof but sells all its SRECs, it transfers the right to characterize its electricity as renewable, said Blair Swezey, senior director of U.S. market development and state policy for SunPower.

Swezey said from the perspective of a solar company, the two reasons his customers look to solar are to save money and to make environmental claims and meet goals. SunPower conducts trainings for its customers to educate them on the kinds of claims they can make depending on the contractual relationship of the solar deal–and whether or not they own the SRECs associated with the project.

“We really have to work to get the language right and make sure that there aren’t any invalid claims” that might get the customer in hot water regarding who really owns the SRECs, Swezey said. He said it’s acceptable for Company X to say things like “this project contributes to a greener grid” when it chooses to sell its SRECs, but not acceptable to say things like “Company X is going solar” or “Company X is reducing corporate carbon emissions.”

An interesting perspective in this conversation came via a California winemaker deeply committed to sustainability. Jackson Family Wines, based in Santa Rosa, California, began its solar journey by purchasing SRECs.

Julien Gervreau, director of sustainability for Jackson Family Wines (JFW) said the company purchases RECs to offset the home energy usage of all its employees. The company also offsets 100% of the company’s energy use with RECs, with total REC purchases equaling 130% of the company’s energy usage, according to JFW. The company also moved to add onsite generation after it got a taste of what Gervreau called the “gateway drug” of RECs. It’s since built a 280-kW solar system at its Carneros Hills Winery and a 162-kW solar system at its Hartford Family Winery.

Gervreau said JFW does need guidance on how to communicate its REC credits to customers and explain what the credits mean. Jennifer Martin from the Center for Resource Solutions said she thinks state governments can play a role in educating the public on the implications of keeping or selling SRECs.

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