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PG&E Utility Offers Customers Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Program

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Wednesday announced the start of a voluntary program to allow its customers to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As part of a plan submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission, the proposed PG&E utility offering would be a voluntary climate protection program that will be available to most of the utility's residential and business customers.

Customers deciding to participate would pay what PG&E Corp.'s utility called "a small premium" (about $4.31/month for average residential electric/gas customers combined) on their monthly bill to fund independent environmental projects aimed at removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. The program would highlight the fact that the use of electricity and natural gas creates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the utility said in announcing its filing to the CPUC. (CO2, the utility stressed, is the most common GHG.)

As now conceived, PG&E's utility program hopes to receive about $20 million in funding over the first three years of the program, with the goal of removing at least two million tons of CO2.

"The structure of the program is designed to make participating customers 'climate neutral' by creating enough projects to equal the greenhouse gas emissions of their collective energy usage," PG&E's utility said in describing its proposed program. "The emission of GHG may cause climate change impacts that disrupt existing weather patterns and have a significant impact on the physical environment."

The utility said forest restoration and conservation projects -- known as "forest sequestration" -- will be the first projects implemented from the customers' billing premiums since trees naturally remove CO2 from the atmosphere and can help fight climate change by storing carbon in their trunks, roots and branches.

All projects will be based in California and selected through competitive bidding with the help of the California Climate Action Registry, and the utility's GHG reduction projects will be overseen by an independent external advisory group that PG&E would help form. In addition to the climate registry, PG&E's utility is working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Pacific Forest Trust, Union of Concerned Scientists, and various local governments and community groups.

PG&E quoted officials from the NRDC, forest trust and City of Santa Rosa who commended the utility for providing "national leadership" in an effort to fight what many consider a major global environmental problem. NRDC's Devra Wang called the proposed program "an important addition to PG&E's energy efficiency programs," adding that it could "further empower customers to help fight global warming."

The PG&E utility's Thomas Bottorff, senior vice president for regulatory relations, said the utility's customers "already are helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions by participating in our energy efficiency and conservation programs, and we're pleased to propose another option toward helping the environment."

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