Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Making The Hard Decisions...

I just got off the phone with a VERY pleasant, English speaking customer service representative from our local utility - EBM. I've been mulling over our most recent utility bill for the past couple of months now, and I finally decided that today was the day that they would be receiving a call from me.

I've noticed the words "EBM Strom CO2-frei" on my last couple of bills. I figured that we had been voluntarily signed up for carbon offsets without my permission, and I decided to call to find out just how much this green tax was costing us. If it was a reasonable amount, no problem. I mean, I buy carbon offsets for travel all the time, so no big deal.

As it turns out, I found out that everybody is automatically enrolled in the carbon offset program (the standard product) unless they opt out. There is an option to pay a lower non-carbon offset rate, and there is also an option to pay a higher fee that is called "EBM Strom atomfrei" - whatever that is. Nicole - the VERY pleasant, English speaking customer service rep - told me that the atomfrei rate is for "...people who are rich and have nothing else to do with their money." Nicole was kind of sassy! I liked her.

In the end, I opted for the cheapest rate. What really kind of ticks me off about these different rate structures is that the sales tax (7.6%) is charged on all three of them. That means that the Swiss tax man gets extra tax money from people who are paying extra to offset their carbon footprint. I just don't think that's right. What I think the utility SHOULD do is charge everybody the lowest rate and then allow people to buy carbon offsets WITHOUT PAYING THE SALES TAX ON THE ADDITIONAL AMOUNT.

I thought long and hard (about two seconds) before making my decision, but I eventually decided that saving 35% on our utility bill was worth the inconvenience of a little climate change.

Sorry.

5 comments:

CanadianSwiss said...

Hmmm. I do get your point, but that's a federal tax. But just out of curiosity, how does it work in North America? Don't you also get the same GST/VAT on everything, too? I mean, a company/service can't just "decide" to take the fed/prov/state taxes off, right? Or am I wrong?

Jul said...

But you sold the car, so it all evens out! :)

The Big Finn said...

cs - Sales tax is charged on most things in North America. However, I can just go to an American website, purchase my own carbon offsets, not be charged sales tax, AND get a tax deduction (I think) because I'm purchasing them from a non-profit organization.

Also...

The calculation of the carbon offsets ends up being much cheaper than the carbon offsets one purchases through utilities, airlines, etc.

Plus...

I just trust the non-profit organizations more (i.e. that the money will actually go toward planting trees, etc.).

Jul - You're right. Plus, we do a lot of other things that are green. In fact, believe it or not, we are probably amongst the greenest people I know.

rswb said...

Plus there's the whole thing where carbon offsetting is all a bit stupid, because it gives people the idea that their lives are "carbon neutral" and that they don't need to actually change their habits, that all they have to do is throw some money at something and it will go away. Plus of course planting trees isn't the panacea it's cracked up to be. Not that I actually disapprove of carbon offsetting, but I think people get waaaay too smug about it. Which is annoying.

Steve said...

How about pledging your cost savings to truly benefit the planet (see Copenhagen Consensus) by doing something like donate to malnutrition or third world disease prevention? As luck would have it, I just finished Michael Crichton's novel "State of Fear" one of those books that you leave on the shelves so it is available to give to anyone who eats beef and uses the phrase "carbon neutral."