Green Gas Controversy: Renewable Pioneer vs Major Utility

british gas logo and ecotricity green gas parody image

Image credit: British Gas & Ecotricity
Ecotricity's efforts to sell biogas direct to residential households seems to be making waves. Most notably, utility giant British Gas—whose Green Streets program I lauded a few weeks ago—is upset that Ecotricity has been using a parody of its logo to promote its own green efforts. Apparently there's a fine line between parody and copyright infringement. It seems British Gas has issued Ecotricity with a series of legal threats relating both to their promotion of their new green gas product, and to their campaign to publicize how much money each utility spends on building renewables. Ecotricity CEO Dale Vince—who recently topped the UK Green rich list—takes up the story of Ecotricity versus British Gas over at his Zero Carbonista blog:

"Just before Xmas we had a series of legal threats from them, about one a week for three weeks in fact. The first alleged that we were 'pretending' to be British Gas. They didn't like our tongue in cheek "Real British Gas" logo it seems - we've tweaked it a bit here to make them feel better. It's hard to take that seriously - we are so not pretending to be British Gas. Why on earth would we? It was a joke guys.

About a week later we got another legal threat, this time dear old BG claimed we were misleading people by offering Green Gas, when in fact it wasn't (green). Something we think we've been pretty clear about."

The issue over whether Ecotricity's product is really 'green gas' essentially stems from the fact that only a small amount of the company's gas purchases will be biogas to start with. Just as they have channeled profits from selling conventional electricity into building wind turbines, Ecotricity is pledging to sell a mix of 'brown' and 'green' gas, but to build facilities for the production of biogas.

Other complaints from British Gas include allegations that Ecotricity have been offering "free gas" (which Dale seems genuinely perplexed about), and taking issue with the company's plans to publish how much each utility spends on building renewables. (Appparently British Gas is not too happy that they are listed as spending zero. But we'll follow that story up when the numbers are actually released.)

Of course, it should be noted that Ecotricity is no stranger to clashing with other energy companies. From protesting French nuclear giant EDF's use of a green Union Jack flag, to entering into open battle with fellow green energy company Good Energy, Dale Vince and crew do seem to revel in stirring up trouble. As a company that has put serious efforts into building clean, domestic renewable energy for the UK, I do personally give this outfit more license than most to be a little irreverent in its treatment of others. But there is a fine line between activist rabble rousing, and simply making trouble for trouble's sake. I'd be interested to know where others think that line lies.

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