Turning Offsets On
New local carbon fund brings solar panels, jobs to Monterey Bay area.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
You may have heard of carbon offsets: those certificates you can buy to mitigate, say, your share of greenhouse gas emissions during a cross-country flight. A group like Carbonfund.org then uses your money to support a reforestation or fuel-efficiency project – so your travel, all told, is carbon neutral.
But when you buy carbon offsets from a national or international organization, your money may fly farther than your plane. A new homegrown program allows business owners and event promoters to offset their carbon emissions while keeping the money, jobs and renewable energy projects local.
The Monterey Bay Offset Fund, an initiative by Pacific Grove nonprofit The Offset Project (www.offsetproject.org), sells carbon offset certificates to fund solar panels for nonprofit and government buildings in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.
TOP Executive Director Kristin Cushman (who’s married to Weekly publisher Erik Cushman) describes the program as a closed loop in which locally produced energy, installed by local workers, is consumed by local enterprises.
“The solar energy is going to create the [offset] certificates, which are going to create local investment opportunities, which are going to create more jobs, which are going to create more solar,” she says. “It’s a cyclical process.”
The fund’s first step is to build its investor group. For-profit investors get an immediate 30 percent tax break, then regular payments for the next 10 years.
“It’s a very attractive thing to get involved with,” Rolf Ridge of Applied Solar Energy explained at the fund’s April 29 launch. “It pencils out very well.”
Local nonprofit and government buildings with solar panels can secure a lower electricity rate, Cushman says. Once the panels are paid off, the nonprofit owns the power and can sell its own offset certificates in perpetuity.
The first installation is planned for Dorothy’s Kitchen, which serves meals to the homeless in Salinas. “If we don’t focus on these little projects,” Cushman says, “nobody will.”
The Offset Project then sells the third-party-certified renewable energy certificates, each equal to a ton of carbon emissions, to local businesses and event promoters looking to offset their impacts. In exchange, TOP authorizes the purchaser to use branded carbon-impact logos to boost their marketing power.