Public-private partnership utilizes carbon credits to winterize homes

Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2011 in Sustainable Maine

Public-private partnership utilizes carbon credits to winterize homes

Dale McCormick, of MaineHousing (R), introduces Bill Devine of Chevrolet at a press event to introduce the partnership between the two entities.

by Gina Hamilton

FREEPORT – Thanks to a unique partnership between MaineHousing and Chevrolet, Dorothy in Freeport will be a lot warmer this winter.

Her home was the pilot project for a partnership in which a private corporation purchased carbon credits from MaineHousing. Chevrolet will retire the credits, once they are fully approved. MaineHousing worked with local contractors to winterize the home.

According to MaineHousing Director Dale McCormick, 11 percent of the cost of the weatherization project came from the sale of the carbon credits.

Chevrolet was under no obligation to retire the carbon units. The company could have chosen instead to use the credits to delay making energy-efficiency improvements itself. That is how most carbon credits are expected to be used, but according to Bill Devine of Chevrolet, that was never the intention of the corporation.

"Once the credits are fully registered, we will retire them so they can't be used by anyone, ever again. This is a new, nontraditional approach to interacting with our customers," he said.

"Dorothy's home is the first of many projects of this type," Devine said. "We look forward to our partnership with MaineHousing and other agencies of this type around the country."

Devine arrived at Monday's event, held at the Freeport home, in a Chevy Volt, one of the first electric cars with a gas "extension," unlike the hybrid models or the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

In his prepared remarks, he said that Chevrolet focuses on three types of sustainable practices, in addition to its hybrids and electric vehicles.  The automaker invests in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and forestry conservation.

Dorothy's home is expected to generate 1.8 metric tons less of carbon per year than it did before the weatherization project was finished.

Now, her home has a resistance factor of 38 in her attic and 21 in the floor. Thirty-eight times less heat will escape through the roof, and 21 times less heat will escape through the cellar walls and the floor of the home.

Carbon credits are generated when energy-efficiency actions are taken that reduce net carbon emissions. In recent years, carbon credits have been offered for sale on one of several carbon markets. The goal is to reward states, corporations and builders for reducing carbon emissions (or expected carbon emissions) by allowing them to sell the carbon they are not generating. The credits are then purchased by utilities and other entities that cannot yet afford to make necessary upgrades. 

Once the entity uses the credits, they are "retired" – they cannot be sold again. In Chevrolet's case, it is choosing to retire the credits without using them, reducing the amount of carbon in the carbon market.

Theoretically, actions like this should mean that the overall price of carbon in the market will increase ... which is good news for MaineHousing and other agencies that sell their credits in order to pay for weatherization projects.

In attendance at Monday's celebration were U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and representatives of Rep. Michael Michaud and Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Leann Oliver of the federal Department of Energy spoke, as did Ken Fletcher of the Governor's Office of Energy Independence.

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