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OPINION - Earth Day and carbon credits

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I remember the first time I heard of the concept of carbon credits. I was a reporter in Connecticut, and our power company, United Illuminating, was selling some of its coal-fired power plants to Duke Energy of North Carolina. The Connecticut plants were considered dirty, dating back to World War II; they'd been retrofitted with new scrubbing technology to reduce smokestack emissions, but were still considered substandard.

Why did Duke Energy buy em? Because Duke owned more modern, cleaner power plants in its corporate portfolio. Under a carbon exchange trading program, Duke's more-modern plants would offset the emissions from their newly-purchased Connecticut facilities. United Illuminating needed to sell. They didn't have enough low emissions facilities and would have had to buy carbon credits from someone else. Unloading the properties was a better long-term choice.

Now, of course, all of this buying, selling and carbon trading did nothing for people who actually lived near the Connecticut coal-fired plants and had asthma. It would be the same particulant-filled air for them, with someone in North Carolina getting the benefits of lower emissions from the power plants they live near.

On this Earth Day 2014, carbon exchanges seems like a dead idea for now. And that's good. Yet the supporters of this hackneyed idea reject the very same principle on a smaller scale. Some of this years Earth Day tips include things like switching to LED light bulbs, washing clothing in cold water, and driving a smaller, more-fuel-efficient vehicles. But they forget that people who don't to make these changes are paying for it a sort-of voluntary carbon tax. If I use older light bulbs and my electric bill is $8-more-per-month because of it, I'm being taxed accordingly for my choice. No different if my hot water heater works overtime when I wash my whites, or if I drive a Humvee instead of a Volt. And the government is free to waste the extra money I pay any way they want.

Chris Conley

Image: Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) Silver Lake Power Plant seen from the top of the Mayo Clinic Plummer Building in downtown Rochester, Minnesota. To the left of the plant is a large pile of coal; to the right is the Zumbro River. By: Jonathunder via Wikicommons.com.