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California Carbon Offset Program Flounders

11/4/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: ClimateSmart, PG&E, carbon emissions, carbon offset program, California

It’s no surprise that Americans don’t want to pay extra on their energy bill—even if that “extra” helps fight climate change. A program offered by California-based Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), which helps customers offset their carbon emissions for a small fee, may be cut at the end of the year, thanks to nearly nonexistent interest in the program

PGE Logo
Photo Courtesy Thomas Hawk 

The program, called ClimateSmart, helps customers calculate the carbon emissions associated with their gas and electricity use and make a tax-deductible donation that allows PG&E to buy carbon offsets. PG&E buys its carbon offsets from a variety of projects, including forest conservation efforts and the capture of methane gas from dairy farms and landfills. 

ClimateSmart has snagged some prominent customers, including eBay, IKEA and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, but general interest in the program has been low. Although PG&E serves 15 million people, only 30,000 customers—or 0.6 percent of those eligible—have enrolled in the program. The unemployment rate in California is at 12 percent, and many households are struggling just to stay on top of bills.

The program is set to expire at the end of this year, and low enrollment numbers could mean the end of ClimateSmart. PG&E officials have appealed to the California Public Utilities Commission to extend the program, but they face strong opposition from the Utility Reform Network (TURN)

TURN officials say the program is not a good deal for customers and should be cut. Although only some customers participate in the program, all PG&E users subsidize the cost through higher rates. So far PG&E has allocated $12 million for marketing and advertising for the program but has collected only $4.5 million from customers. 

What do you think? Have you ever purchased carbon offsets? If not, would you consider it?

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