Investigation of green credit sales

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Soaring sales of renewable energy certificates (RECs) by Spanish utilities Iberdrola and Endesa are under inspection by the government's fair trading department, Servicio de Defensa de la Competencia (SDC). Although Spanish RECs to date have been exclusively associated with small hydro production -- despite dramatic pictures of wind turbines in Iberdrola's green energy TV campaign -- the investigation could usher in REC opportunities for wind power. Given that Iberdrola recently claimed to have accumulated over 10,500 REC sales for around 170 GWh in just six months of trading, the opportunities are not insignificant.

SDC opened the investigation following a report from electricity regulator Comisión Nacional de Energía (CNE), which considers the green energy publicity campaigns "misleading." In CNE's view, the campaigns do not make it clear that the hydro energy being sold under a REC label would have been produced anyway, says CNE, and they fail to explain there is no guarantee that green energy profits will go to developing new renewables projects.

Both Iberdrola and Endesa are staying quiet until the legal implications of CNE's statement are clarified. To avoid the green value being sold twice, RECs are not issued for wind and other renewables that already receive premium prices under Spanish law.

A way of ensuring that RECs income is ploughed back into new development of renewable energy is being discussed in the wind industry. The idea is to tie REC profits to an explicit guarantee to reinvest in other green energy initiatives unrelated to the subsidies, such as promoting renewables in developing countries, reducing environmental or visual impact of power plant, public campaigns for energy efficiency, or research and development into hydrogen or other electricity storage technologies. In this way, production from wind and other renewables could be traded via RECs without affecting the existing premium price system, says the industry.

The idea is still in its infancy. Meanwhile, some insiders see an imminent opportunity in selling RECs abroad, such as to Italy where prices are high due to a shortage of certificates to meet demand. The Spanish wind sector buzz is that it could pay off to relinquish wind tariff incentives at home and to sell the power on the open market and the associated RECs to Italy. Nobody is yet prepared to stick their neck out by going public on such suggestions. Nevertheless, it seems the fast maturing Spanish wind sector is open to new earnings opportunities.

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