By Michael Bielawski and Bruce Parker
IRASBURG, Vt. – A group defending ridgelines against wind energy development has filed a complaint with the Vermont Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission accusing local wind-power producers of making false green marketing claims.
In a complaint filed March 15, the Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance alleges that Renewable Energy Vermont, Georgia Mountain Community Wind and the Burlington Electric Department engaged in consumer deception in their descriptions and marketing of wind-generated electricity.
The citizen-led alliance claims that the organizations — a trade association, a developer and an electric utility — advertise renewable energy in marketing and promotions despite selling renewable energy certificates, or RECs, to out-of-state entities.
“Despite warnings, industrial wind producers continue deceptive ‘green’ marketing claims,” the IRA said in a statement on Tuesday.
The group asserts that by selling RECs out of state, the organizations lose the basis for advertising their product as “renewable.” The complaint states the three organizations are marketing wind-generated renewable power in violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, 9 V.S.A. § 2453(a), which prohibits “deceptive or unfair practices.”
“As far as what we know today, there is no so-called renewable project in this state that has not sold its RECs out of state,” IRA spokesman Michael Sanville told Vermont Watchdog. “That being (the case), there should not be any company within the state that’s advertising any of their energy generation as ‘renewable.’”
Sanville said at least one neighboring state, Connecticut, recently complained about “double-booking” — a term used for counting renewable energy twice — and considered prohibiting purchases of RECs generated in Vermont. Sanville said the controversy led Sorrell to issue warnings to the Vermont solar industry late last year. Likewise the FTC warned Vermont energy companies in February 2015 not to make deceptive claims.
According to the alliance, the warnings didn’t prevent Renewable Energy Vermont from continuing to promote “clean, green, and local” wind energy in television advertisements. In one ad released in November, Renewable Energy Vermont states that Vermont turbines power 46,200 homes with wind energy, even though certificates identifying that renewable power were sold to out-of-state entities for use in other states.
Also according to the alliance, a recent press release by the Burlington Electric Department makes the claim that Georgia Mountain Community Wind powers the local community with clean energy and provides “enough renewable energy to power more than 5,500 Vermont households.”
The complaint notes that Burlington Electric and Georgia Mountain Community Wind are members of the Renewable Energy Vermont trade association, and questions whether the name “Renewable Energy Vermont” also is an example of deceptive marketing.
The attorney general’s office is currently reviewing the IRA’s complaint. Sanville said the group wants Sorrell to issue a cease-and-desist order on all green marketing efforts, and to award monetary damages.
Sanville said the IRA intends to hold the wind-energy producers’ feet to the fire. He added that it would be hypocritical of the attorney general’s office not to enforce Vermont’s consumer protection laws against renewable energy producers after having investigated anti-big-renewables activist Annette Smith in January for allegedly “practicing law without a license.”
Dr. Ron Holland, of the IRA, said the producers have had “ample time and warning to learn the Federal Trade Commission guidelines.”
“We are tired of Vermont companies making illegal claims that their energy is renewable when it is not. That is why we took our concerns to the Vermont Attorney General and the FTC,” Holland said in a statement.
Watchdog reached out to representatives from Burlington Electric Department and Georgia Mountain Community Wind on Wednesday, but they did not return our request for comment.
Contact Michael Bielawski at [email protected]