The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has started legal proceedings in the Federal Court in Sydney against Global Green Plan Ltd for breach of an undertaking by the company to buy renewable energy certificates.
From 2006 to 2008 Global Green Plan operated GreenSwitch, a retailer of renewable energy under the government's national GreenPower accreditation program. GreenSwitch accepted payments from customers on the proviso the money would be used to purchase renewable energy certificates. However, not all certificates were purchased as promised and in 2008 Greenswitch was removed from the register of approved renewable energy retailers. But even after that, a 2008 CHOICE investigation found the company continued to sell renewable energy credits to consumers through its website.
Following an offical complaint and evidence provided by CHOICE to the ACCC, the regulator took action and late last year Global Green Plan acknowledged its conduct was likely to have breached the Trade Practices Act. In court-enforceable undertakings, the company agreed to make amends by purchasing approximately 4,000 renewable energy certificates and by writing to customers explaining the situation. The ACCC now alleges the certificates were not purchased, nor the letters sent to GreenSwitch customers, by 24 March 2010 or by the time of instituting these new court proceedings.
This case illustrates the risks to consumers of buying carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates, even when they're from a government accredited retailer. In good faith and trusting in the government accreditation system, customers paid money to Greenswitch expecting this would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. But in many cases, customers' money has done nothing to help either the planet, or the size of their carbon footprint.