Green market hits obstacles -- Clear guidelines needed

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Lack of consumer awareness and confusing standards are obstacles to growth of green power programs in Canada, a market that relies heavily on the wind industry for supply. "Success will depend on the introduction of one set of clear, concise guidelines that protect consumers and ensure that environmental attributes are passed on to them," says a new report from Canada's Pembina Institute.

Of the 86 MW of installed capacity feeding four Canadian green power programs at the end of 2001, slightly more than 50 MW were wind facilities, says Pembina. The remainder came from a 12.75 MW run-of-river hydro plant, a 13.4 kW solar installation and a 23 MW biomass plant, only a portion of which is used to supply green power customers. Three of the four programs offer wind exclusively and wind is also expected to be a key generation source in several other programs in the planning stages during the study period.

own standards

Environment Canada has developed the Ecologo program to certify low impact renewable energy, but the latest draft updating the guidelines, released for public comment in December 2001, has yet to be finalised. Meanwhile, the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA), which represents major utility companies, is developing its own standards for "environmentally preferable" power that could include fossil fuel and large hydro projects.

The CEA initiative, it argues, could "severely jeopardise" the green power market in Canada. "Consumers will shy away from purchasing green power if multiple definitions for the product are offered at different prices, representing different standards of environmental performance." Confusion over the ownership of the environmental benefits associated with green power is also a concern, the report says. The draft Ecologo guideline does not deal with the issue and while a survey of green power providers found that a "vast majority" of customers would like the benefits sold with the green electricity, that is not always happening now.

no misinformation

SaskPower, the report says, retains ownership of greenhouse gas offsets from the wind power it sells to some of its customers in Saskatchewan. Only the federal government, which specifically contracted to buy those reductions, receives them. "The Pembina Institute believes that consumers should be made aware of this policy so they are not misinformed about the product they are purchasing," adds the report.

A lack of consumer awareness is also a barrier, the report says. The federal government has launched a C$25 million Market Incentive Program to help green power retailers experiment with ways to reach residential and small business consumers. The program will provide up to C$5 million to help cover marketing costs. The goal, says the government, is to establish low-impact renewable energy sources as full-fledged competitors in the electricity market by 2010.

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