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Bedford Borough Council (BBC) declared a climate emergency in 2019 and one of its objectives was to buy 100% renewable electricity through energy contracts. It’s short-term target was have 100% green electricity by April 2020.

In November last year, the Council announced that from April 2021 it will be moving to “100% green renewable electricity“.

At the time, Borough Mayor Dave Hodgson said

“I would urge local residents and businesses to look at how they are getting their energy, and see if there is an option for you to make the switch to green energy.”

In the announcement, the Council said that the new contract will see its owned and operated buildings and its street lighting powered by renewable energy.

Dictionary.com defines “powered” as “having a specified fuel or prime mover“. The specified fuel in this case is “renewable energy

However, the new electricity contract does not provide renewable energy to Bedford Borough. Council owned and operated buildings and street lighting will not be powered by renewable energy all the time.

The Council, like most end users, gets its electricity from the National Grid. The Grid operator, National Grid ESO, moves electricity around the country to ensure that the right amount of electricity is where it’s needed.

With this distribution system it is not possible to trace a ‘green electron’ from a renewable source to a consumer.

National Grid ESO’s report for electricity generation in January 2021 showed:

Gas 43.34%
Wind 19.16%
Nuclear 16.8%
Biomass 6.28%
Coal 4.62%
Solar 0.77%
Imports 7.89%
Hydro 1.15%

This means that last month, (discounting the imported electricity) only around 30% was generated by renewable sources. Telegraph Money reported in August 2019 that households paying for energy deals marketed as “100pc renewable” could get as little as 3.7% of their energy from renewable sources.

Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin

The Council has switched to a carbon neutral “Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin” (REGO) backed energy supply through npower. This energy tariff matches the power a customer consumed with the equivalent volume of renewable power supplied to the grid.

REGOs can be sold to an energy firm which wants to offset its carbon use and market its tariffs as renewable. Ofgem, the government regulator for gas and electricity markets in Great Britain, issues one REGO certificate for every 1,000 units (1 Megawatt) of energy produced by a renewable generator.

These certificates allow suppliers to market their tariffs as green, but suppliers cannot claim that the electricity was generated specifically for their customer.

Ofgem’s website says that the primary use of REGOs in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is for Fuel Mix Disclosure (FMD). FMD requires licensed electricity suppliers to disclose to potential and existing customers the mix of fuels (coal, gas, nuclear, renewable and other) used to generate the electricity supplied.

The Chronicle asked Ofgem what would happen if the demand for REGO certificates out stripped demand, but did not get a response to this particular point.

Gareth Ellis, Luton and Bedfordshire Green Party co-secretary, said:

“The problem with REGOs is that they are traded separately to the actual electricity generated.

“So a supplier can buy electricity on the wholesale market which includes a mix of everything renewable, nuclear, fossil fuel etc. They can then buy a REGO certificate to cover the same amount of electricity and claim they are supplying 100% renewable electricity.”

A Borough Council spokesperson told the Cranfield and Marston Vale Chronicle:

“Bedford Borough Council has switched to energy produced from 100% renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, etc). This is guaranteed by “Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin” (REGO) certificates.

“This certificate is proof of origin, that the energy is from a renewable source. The green electricity which we purchase is fed into the national grid like all electricity, it is not a different type of electricity. The Council also utilises the solar energy generated on eight of its sites including 50kW at Borough Hall.”

A Which? investigation in 2019 found that these REGO certificates can be bought by suppliers from renewable energy generators for as little as 30p to 50p per megawatt-hour (Mwh).

Bedford Borough said the new contract is expected to cost the Council less than 1% more in its energy bills.

Gareth Ellis said:

“It is very likely that renewable generation was funded by public subsidy. By you and me.

“REGOs are very cheap and part of the reason is that the premium price for the renewable energy has already been paid.”

“So, to truly say they [Bedford Borough Council] are paying for renewable electricity the Council should pay for new generation which hasn’t been subsidised through something called a Power Purchase Agreement. Then they can buy REGOs to go along with that.”

By switching to a REGO tariff, the Council can report that it has reduced its carbon emissions in its annual greenhouse gas report without making any physical changes to its energy use.

The Chronicle approached npower for a comment but was directed to its website.