Episode 145: Carbon Offset Solutions with Green Mountain Energy Company
GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks about clean energy products, corporate sustainability initiatives, and cost-effective carbon offset solutions with Gillan Taddune, Chief Environmental Officer of BeGreen/Green Mountain Energy Company.
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Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from GreenLivingIdeas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily with Green Living Ideas. Welcome to GreenTalk Radio. Today, we are going to be talking on the very perennially interesting topic of clean energy as well as carbon offsets. To talk with me on that topic is Gillan Taddune, who is the Chief Environmental Officer at Green Mountain Energy Company and their BeGreen Division. Gillan, welcome to the program.
Gillan Taddune: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Sean Daily: Well, it's great to have you. I know that you guys are mentioned as being the nation's, apparently, the leading provider of cleaner energy and carbon offset solutions. Now, is that just a PR phrase or have you bench marked that and determined that that is true at the company?
Gillan Taddune: Well, we definitely see ourselves as the leader. We've actually just celebrated our 10 year anniversary as a company, so we've been pretty much around selling cleaner electricity from non-polluting sources and also carbon offsets for quite awhile.
Sean Daily: Why don't we just jump in and tell me a little bit more about Green Mountain and BeGreen and kind of what the difference is between the two and what your day-to-day role is in being the Chief Environmental Officer there.
Gillan Taddune: Well, Green Mountain Energy Company started 10 years ago, and the mission of the company was to change the way that power is made. That's basically because a lot of people don't know that making electricity is the leading cause of industrial air pollution in the United States. So, we set out to give people the choice of where their electricity generation comes from, and that's how we started.
Then, recently, probably in the last three years we've also added carbon offsets to our portfolio of solutions that we offer to customers nationally. We've put that under the BeGreen Division in the company.
Sean Daily: BeGreen refers to the carbon offset side of the business.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly.
Sean Daily: On the other side of the business in the direct power production, is it really direct power production from cleaner sources or are you working with other energy companies to source it in a more renewable way which that's actually the term I'd like to define, but we'll get to that in a second. Is it that, or are you guys doing all just the direct production of energy yourselves?
Gillan Taddune: We're actually sourcing the cleaner energy on behalf of our customers, and then we put that into the grid and customers receive a bill from us. So, we're actually doing the sourcing on behalf of our customers.
Sean Daily: So, it's kind of at a higher level where what you're doing is working with the power companies themselves to purchase green solutions on behalf of the customers.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly.
Sean Daily: It's so interesting because I always think of power as something that comes from pretty much one company that you have no choice in and it's local and it's whatever they are doing, whatever plant they have whether it's coal, nuclear or whatever. But, it really is this tradable commodity, like any other commodity on the market where you can source and trade it and source it from wherever you want.
Gillan Taddune: Yeah, exactly. That's actually something that's really evolving is that especially the environmental attributes from a lot of these cleaner facilities they're actually being traded like commodities. And that market is becoming more and more liquid over time which is actually a good thing for not only the environment but for consumers, like you said. Before, everyone was beholden to a monopoly utility provider, and really they had no say in where their energy sources came from. Now, all of that is changing.
Sean Daily: I think it's always important to ground listeners with the terminology that is going to be introduced. I think a lot of these terms get thrown around in the LOHAS industry. Hey there's a term that's thrown around, Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, right?
Renewable energy, we talk about it on the GreenLivingIdeas.com site. Can you give us from your definition what renewable energy is really all about?
Gillan Taddune: Sure. Renewable energy comes from sources that are inexhaustible or rapidly renewable over time. An example of that would be the wind or the sun because those are the "fuel" inputs into wind and solar facilities and those resources are inexhaustible.
Sean Daily: Hopefully, yes.
Gillan Taddune: Well, hopefully, unless we have a wind shortage some day which you never know, right?
Sean Daily: What are you going to do?
Gillan Taddune: Right. Another type of renewable energy resource is geothermal using the underground heat of the earth as an input into generating electricity which is pretty interesting.
Then, another one is landfill gas, and that's actually taking garbage and using the methane that comes off of landfills to generate electricity.
Sean Daily: That's fascinating. I've heard some about that, and that's not something that I've learned a lot about so far. I am curious to know. A lot of people are familiar with wind and solar. If you're not, certainly again, go to the website and check it out. Either go to GreenMountainEnergy.com or GreenLivingIdeas.com and find out more about that.
I am interested about the geothermal and the landfill gases. How significant has that become in your client portfolio in terms of customer demand?
Gillan Taddune: We've had a small portion of geothermal that we've used over the past couple of years, basically from geysers out in California, but I would say that the landfill gas-to-energy projects are really becoming much more prevalent in our portfolio. They tend to be pretty small. I don't know if you've seen landfills so you really have to buy the energy from quite a few of them to really make them be a large portion of our portfolio.
Sean Daily: That's what I was wondering. I was wondering about the efficiencies of that, given that factor.
Gillan Taddune: But it is a great resource. It does produce very well, and as you know, turning garbage into energy, I think, is a great thing.
Sean Daily: Oh, definitely, especially if it can be done again in an efficient manner because sometimes there's these things where yes, you can do it but the amount of energy that's spent in making it happen is a net loss. It's diminishing returns, as they say.
Gillan Taddune: Yes. Another thing about these landfill gas facilities is that they're often located in inner cities which are often non-attainment areas so that's helping the environment right there. It's more of a localized source of energy rather than, maybe, a wind farm which has to be way out in the hills and have a lot of transmission constructed to get that power into urban areas.
Sean Daily: Now, I'm curious. Moving forward, somebody has decided, "Hey I want all renewable energy to my home or my business". How has that renewable energy being delivered to that home or business?
Gillan Taddune: I think that's the big trick because once an electron goes into the power grid you can't really tell it where to go. If somebody is buying renewable energy, what we liken it to is you need to think of the electricity grid as a bathtub.
Sean Daily: Electricity in bathtubs? Those don't mix very well. I'm sorry.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly. Well, forget about that piece. But if you... [laughs]
Sean Daily: Please continue with the metaphor. Actually, I appreciate dark humor.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly. If you think of it as a bathtub that's really filled with dirty water and then you go and buy wind power or renewable energy, new technologies are then being built and being put onto the grid and are making the bath water in the bathtub cleaner over time.
But, you can never guarantee that that electron from that wind farm is going to go straight into the outlet so that when you turn your electronics on you're making sure that a wind electron is actually going to your house. That's just the pure law of physics.
Sean Daily: Right. So, that makes sense. I appreciate that level of candor because that was one of those things that sounds like a blue sky scenario.
Gillan Taddune: Right.
Sean Daily: It sounds like what you're actually doing is purchasing an allocation that goes into the grid.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly.
Sean Daily: And so, it's not that those electrons are going to come to you and only you while everybody else is using gray power or black power.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly.
Sean Daily: So, that makes a lot of sense. It's guaranteeing it. How does that differ then from an offset, really?
Gillan Taddune: An offset goes beyond renewable energy. An offset deals specifically with carbon, and an offset can be generated from other green technologies that are not renewable energy. For example, we have offsets in our portfolio from forest sequestration. That's tree plantings and areas that have been deforested due to natural disaster or disease.
Trees are definitely carbon sinks, so those provide carbon offsets not electricity based but a green, new technology to help combat the global warming and carbon issue.
Sean Daily: I see. That makes a lot of sense. Can you tell us, what are some of the benefits of using or choosing renewable energy over non-renewable?
Gillan Taddune: I think, back to what I said about non-renewable fossil fuel based production, coal production, it is extremely polluting, the high contributor to the global warming problem. When you choose renewable energy, obviously you are choosing energy that comes from clean and non-polluting sources so you are helping to reduce the carbon problem that is really contributing to global warming and climate change.
Sean Daily: You're saying it's the number one contributor.
Gillan Taddune: Yes, industrial source.
Sean Daily: That makes a lot of sense. That is sort of the conventional wisdom, but I sometimes hear people putting up other sources as the biggest. I had a few people on this program say, "This is number one", but that's the one that makes the most sense to me because power makes the world go round literally, businesses and homes and everything operate.
Gillan Taddune: Absolutely and those are validated. You can look at various websites, like the EPA, the Global Warming site or the Peace Center for climate change. If people need more information, there's pretty good information out there about that.
Sean Daily: Now, I think it's interesting that you mentioned the EPA because now you're drawing me in. The EPA is currently, as this podcast is being recorded, being sued by 24 different states as well as a number of consumer organizations based on their not following and not embracing the whole thing that greenhouses gases need to be controlled under the EPA's umbrella and not following the regulations that have been set in stone and into law. What's your perspective on that?
Gillan Taddune: I think it's definitely an issue. I've been following that, and I'm really hoping that there will be a positive outcome.
Sean Daily Why the foot dragging, do you think? It calls for special agenry [sp] but I'm just curious with your viewpoint on the industry. I'd love to hear it.
Gillan Taddune: I just think that there's probably been not a lot of support for them to actually take steps in that direction.
Sean Daily: You mean from higher levels?
Gillan Taddune: Yeah [laughs].
Sean Daily: That's enough said there. That's what I've been thinking, too. It's amazing to me. These are the people that are supposed to be protecting us in the country, the air and the environment. They are completely foot dragging on the number one issue of our, possibly, the history of our country and of the world.
Gillan Taddune: I definitely would like to see some momentum in the right direction.
Sean Daily: Hopefully, with the PR storm that's occurred around this we'll see big changes. Anyway, moving on from that, we jumped into carbon offsets, and I really appreciate that definition, that differentiation between the two. That makes it a lot clearer for me.
I think that carbon offsets, just to say this first, is that there are a lot of people that don't believe in carbon offsets or think it looks a little bit sconce headed. It's not really as green as some other things. It's been likened to and I have personally likened it to, medieval indulgences of pain off the church for your sins and things like that.
But, it's not to say there's no value in it. In your estimation, actually maybe you could tell us where does the money flow when you buy a carbon offset? Tell us how that money flows out and what's usually done with it or, at least, in terms of your company.
Gillan Taddune: Sure. Well, first, in order to even get to where somebody would want to buy a carbon offset then you could calculate their carbon footprint. Those are emissions created by activities, like driving, flying, using electricity or using natural gas.
When somebody is going to buy an offset, they usually measure their footprint in terms of tons of carbon that they are emitting into the atmosphere every year. And so, offsets are basically tons of carbon reductions that can be purchased from various clean technologies.
When somebody buys 10 tons of carbon offset from Green Mountain and BeGreen, our carbon offset division, we then directly invest in carbon offset projects, such as those coming from energy efficiency, forest sequestration and renewable energy.
Now, to prove that - I think that's where a lot of the skepticism arises. Like, OK, so I pay this money; how do I know? We actually have an independent, third party auditing firm come in to ensure that all of our customer purchases match up with actual purchases from carbon offset projects.
Sean Daily: And so, what's the third party? Can you mention them?
Gillan Taddune: They're called Weaver & Tidwell. They are an auditing firm.
Sean Daily: So, they're an auditing firm specifically for this industry or just a general auditing firm?
Gillan Taddune: Well, they have a lot of green experience, but they're also a general auditing firm. We actually have the audit posted on our website.
Sean Daily: Good. Well, we're going to take a break right here because I have some other questions for you. We're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors for the show, and then we'll be right back.
I'm talking with Gillan Taddune, who is the Chief Environmental Officer for BeGreen, which is a division of Green Mountain Energy Company, and we'll be right back on GreenTalk Radio.
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Sean Daily: Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily. We're back. We're talking about clean energy and carbon offsets with Gillan Taddune, who is the Chief Environmental Officer at BeGreen, which is a division of Green Mountain Energy Company. You can find them online at www.GreenMountain.com or BeGreenNow.com.
Gillan, we were talking about carbon offsets and other things. I'll let you continue with what you were talking about before the break with regards to the flow of money. And really what we're talking about, too, is verifying that you're buying from a reputable seller and that the money is going into the right place.
What other reassurances, if any, can you provide our listeners who are purchasing these?
Gillan Taddune: Well, I think the biggest one is the fact that we do have our books audited, and that's publicly available. We also have had our entire calculator methodologies audited by an independent third party to say that those are in line with the international calculation guide lines. That letter is up on our website, so I think we're trying to be as transparent as possible.
Then, as far as the actual sourcing that's one of my biggest roles as Chief Environmental Officer for all of our products across the company. We have a pretty rigorous standard of purchasing guide lines to make sure that the projects where we source from are very high quality.
That's one of the things I have to do is review all of that daily.
Sean Daily: I'm fascinated, just as an aside. I'm fascinated and excited to see that there is this role, your title in the company, Chief Environmental Officer, which is funny because actually it's spells out CEO.
Gillan Taddune: I know.
Sean Daily: In a loose moment, can you introduce yourself as the CEO?
Gillan Taddune: When the real CEO is not paying attention, yeah, uh-huh.
Sean Daily: I imagine I can get you in some hot water.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly.
Sean Daily: Bathtub water, yes; hopefully not with electricity. I am curious about your background. I know a lot of schools now are offering programs to help people. Actually, there are programs that are leaning towards a track of becoming an environmental officer in a company.
Can you tell us just in an aside role quickly about your background? What brought you to the company?
Gillan Taddune: Well, I actually went to graduate school specifically to study these types of issues. I went to Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies and how to focus on economics with a policy concentration in energy and the environment. It was there that I learned about this connection between electricity production and environmental degradation et cetera, so I really wanted it to work in the renewable industry.
I then went to work in public policies for the Texas Public Utility Commission and help them to implement the first tradable, renewable energy credit program in the state which is now doing very well with all of the wind power that is being developed here, and then Green Mountain saw me and recruited me here. I've been here for about eight years.
Sean Daily: That's interesting. You saw this from a state level.
Gillan Taddune: Yep.
Sean Daily: And a governmental level and then now also from the private sector level as well.
Gillan Taddune: Exactly. It's grown that way, right? From the public mandate to this whole new voluntary market that's arising which is really nice and a whole new level of awareness. Ten years ago, really, nobody really understood renewable energy.
Now, it's on the cover of Vanity Fair. So, I think it's a great time to be in the private sector providing these types of products to individuals and businesses.
Sean Daily: It definitely is. It's amazing to me you mentioned there are people that sometimes say - It wasn't you but in a previous podcast they'd say, "I'm bleeding like my life together right now. Somebody was talking about somebody that just doesn't believe in what... I'm not sure this is really necessary to go green. It was in regards to the systems, the purchasing control systems in homes and businesses, just getting them to put it in the budget.
It's just amazing that there are still people out there when you’ve got Chief Environmental Officer titles in the majority of major companies out there. If not all of the major companies out there, but people are still saying, "I don't really buy this whole green thing". It's like, "Hello".
Gillan Taddune: I know. That's interesting. You know, the thing is we just always say we're not telling people what to do we are here to give people that choice. I really hope that a lot of businesses continue to make that choice and really to incorporate it into their core business operation because I think that that's what sustainability is really about, not just going in and being destructive to a community but really figuring out how to operate in a sustainable fashion.
Sean Daily: Gillan, I have one other question for you. It's just around the whole idea of... We always like to leave our listeners with some take away tips as well as a viewpoint from the visionaries and the people who come on this show that work in the green industry. I hate to use the term "green" all the time because it's again an ambiguous term.
In your estimation, what are some of the specific steps that people can take in their lives to go green from your standpoint in the world that have the greatest leverage?
Gillan Taddune: I think that anything you can do to reduce your energy consumption is really going to make a big impact, given the polluting nature of electricity production. So, whether that's basic things like making sure all of your lights are turned off in your office. Or if you're going to build a new home there's a new LEED certification for residential homes where they don't use a lot of electricity. Things like that, I think, are really important.
And then, anything that you can do to cut down on transportation or buy one of these really cool, new hybrid vehicles which get great gas mileage. Anything that's going to reduce your overall carbon footprint, I think, is a great first step.
Sean Daily: Great. Well, we appreciate you coming on the program and sharing all of your information.
Gillan Taddune: Well, thank you so much.
Sean Daily: Yeah, definitely. My guest has been Gillan Taddune, who is the Chief Environmental Officer at Green Mountain Energy Company in the BeGreen Division. You can find out more information about what they're doing with green energy at www.GreenMountain.com or www.BeGreenNow.com.
This is Sean Daily from GreenTalk Radio signing off. Thanks everyone.
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