AB 1110 Protects Consumers From Greenwashing

Gov. Jerry Brown called for urgent action to combat climate change at last month’s Democratic National Convention, noting solutions require “a heroic effort on the part of many people and many nations.”

While California leads the global fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate renewable power, consumers trying to do their part by purchasing green energy face a bewildering array of options with no clear standards to determine which are the most effective. By passing AB 1110, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, the Legislature can send Brown a bill that will help Californians to make informed choices.

Utilities pitch attractive-sounding “clean energy” programs through monthly bills and ubiquitous ads, Web-based ventures promise zero emissions with only a few clicks, and community choice aggregators offer green power to local residents as an alternative to unpopular utilities. But consumers lack the tools to objectively compare these choices and understand their actual environmental value apart from marketing claims.

Californians who want to know exactly what their green-energy dollars are buying should urge their state senators to approve AB1110.

While nutrition labels allow for a comparison of packaged foods that may have hidden ingredients, there is no similar way to easily compare the carbon content of energy sold as “green.” As a result, anyone can market “zero carbon” power without the need to back up the claim.

Since 1998, the state has required electric companies to report their power purchases and to provide consumers with a Power Content Label. However, this label does not include the amount of greenhouse gases created by power plants generating the energy sold to customers. This omission is important because some “renewable energy” offers are primarily composed of dirty fossil energy that is marketed as “green” through creative accounting.

Too often, green-energy claims are based on the separate purchase of tradable “renewable” certificates, which prove only that renewable energy was once produced in another state and sold to another customer. Unfortunately, the purchase of these tradable credits does not clean up the atmosphere and cannot magically transform energy actually produced from coal and gas power plants into “zero carbon” electricity.

For consumers seeking to decode attempts at greenwashing, Ting’s AB1110 offers real hope by requiring the state’s Power Content Label to include a standard approach to measure greenhouse gas emissions for every electricity product sold in the state. This approach is intended to ensure that customers receive accurate information about how the energy they purchase contributes toward climate change through actual emissions of greenhouse gases in California and the rest of the West.

As California’s energy policies have changed to prioritize the use of zero-carbon and renewable resources, our consumer protection laws must evolve accordingly. Consumers want to make meaningful choices and use their purchasing power to promote a cleaner, greener energy future. If California is going to lead, it needs world-class consumer protections like those included in AB1110 to rein in the proliferation of misleading marketing claims and ensure that the real impact of clean energy product matches the hype.