Randy and Tami Wilson, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, earned the single credit through a transaction brokered by the My Emissions Exchange website. It aims to certify emissions reductions by home owners or tenants and then sell those credits to companies looking to up their green quotient.
The website’s existence suggests that while Congress may have given up on creating a national scheme for trading carbon emissions, there are ordinary Americans willing to play the voluntary market. The company says it has signed up 1,800 households since going into business last autumn.
A company in Middlefield, Ohio, Molten Metal Equipment, bought the Wilsons’ carbon credit, representing a tonne of carbon dioxide, for $21.50. The website earned $4.30 in commission, and the Wilsons took home $17.20.
But this modest cash reward was not the only reason for the Wilsons’s solar conversion. Outraged by a threatened 30% price hike by their local electricity provider, they hired a contractor to install 36 solar panels on their roof.
“When my husband and I heard six or eight months ago from PPL Electric Utilities that our energy costs were going up 30 to 40%, we said to ourselves, what can we do?” said Tami Wilson.
In addition to the solar panels, the Wilsons also switched to energy-savings light bulbs, replaced their windows, and made a habit of turning off computers, DVDs and other appliances not in use. They adopted a “hybrid” system for doing laundry, putting wet clothes in a dryer for 10 minutes before hanging them on a line. They got rid of their son’s heated waterbed.
The couple told reporters they were counting on federal and state tax credits to recoup $36,000 of their investment, but it will still take six years to get back the rest of their investment through energy savings and the sale of carbon credits. At that point, though, the solar panels will be turning a profit. “Then we basically have no electric [bill] for life,” Tami said.
Prospective domestic carbon traders begin by handing over a year’s worth of electricity and heating bills. American households – with the stereotypical television in every teenagers’ bedroom – are notorious energy hogs. The average family produces about 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
If the family then goes on to reduce emissions, the website will calculate how much carbon they have saved. The savings then translate into credits for every tonne of carbon avoided. The company certifies the credits, and then arranges the sale.
The company says customers gain twice, in carbon credits and in lower electricity bills – although it will obviously take time before major investments, like the Wilsons’ solar panels, pay for themselves.
But it says even replacing a few old lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or putting in a programmable thermostat would be enough for most homes to offset about a tonne of carbon a year – or about $17.20 after commission.