Part 1: What the heck is a REC?

Wind Energy

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve decided to write a two-part series on renewable energy certificates (RECs). Read below to learn about RECs, and check in later for a blog post on how RECs help us fulfill our mission to change the way power is made.

The energy industry isn’t easy to navigate, but we’re here to help! Today, we tackle the concept of renewable energy certificates (RECs). RECs are one way we put the ‘green’ in Green Mountain Energy® electricity, and they’re pretty simple, actually.

Think of renewable energy generators, for example wind farms or solar panels, like a Velcro factory. The Velcro factory can sell the Velcro two ways: (1) intact, with the sticky side and the felt side stuck together, or (2) separately, peeling apart the rough side from the soft side. Similarly, when a wind farm or solar panel generates energy, the renewable energy can be split into two parts: (1) the electrons that create electricity that flows out over the power lines and (2) the RECs that signify that the electricity is generated from a renewable source. Just like the Velcro factory, the renewable energy can be kept together and sold intact as electrons + RECs (i.e., bundled), or the pieces can be pulled apart and sold separately (plain ol’ electrons over here and RECs over there).

It’s important to know that when the electrons are separated from the RECs, the electricity is no longer considered renewable. It’s just regular electricity, like what’s produced by a coal, nuclear or natural gas plant. The electrons must be accompanied by RECs to count as renewable, the same way you must have both sides of Velcro to make things stick!

Conclusion

In short, a REC by itself doesn’t turn lights on, and energy by itself can’t be called renewable. It’s only when RECs + electrons are bundled – both of the Velcro strips stuck together – that it can be called renewable energy. The RECs and electrons don’t necessarily even have to come from the same generation facility (“Velcro factory”), but they always have to be stuck together to count as renewable energy.

This joining of RECs and electrons is what we do to provide cost-competitive renewable energy. For every unit of renewable energy that we sell to our customers (whether it’s to your home or to a building like the Empire State Building), we match RECs with electrons, putting the Velcro together. We’re also picky about our RECs. Each REC has to meet tough environmental standards and is verified by a third party every year, which is one big thing that sets us apart. Read more about how we keep our RECs squeaky clean.

See below to learn about the role RECs play in helping us change the way power is made.


Video credit: Center for Resource Solutions
Part 2:
Purchasing RECs supports renewable energy projects