When the Wilsons received a notice in the mail that their energy rates would be increasing 30 percent (or more) in 2010, they got good and mad ... and then they installed solar panels.

Their install costs were $56,000, $36,000 of which was paid for by a federal tax credit combined with a hefty state rebate. The remaining $20,000 they had to finance on their own, and that's when they turned to My Emissions Exchange, a company that allows homeowners to essentially get paid to reduce their energy impacts by putting home-grown carbon credits onto international carbon trading markets.

When I first heard about the My Emissions Exchange, my first reaction was a mixture of "Yeah, right ..." and "That's genius!" The well-branded (a la FedX) website combined with funky videos set forth a great idea — reduce your fossil fuel below an established benchmark and sell the difference on the carbon trading markets. But ...

Setting aside all the controversy surrounding carbon trading schemes, my big question was this — how do you validate the benchmark? The website has a hugely simplified carbon calculator which allows you to self-report any amount of energy consumption you want. Overinflate that a little (or a lot) screw in a few light bulbs and pocket free money — a scam that climate activist nightmares are made of.

But it seems the company has now found a genuine business model in homeowner-funded solar installations. Once net metering is installed on the home, it is quite easy to collect data on the exact amount of energy consumed by the home, the portion which is powered by carbon-free solar power, and then sell the difference on the market, which is, in fact a valid carbon credit.

Whatever your position is on the carbon market (as you know, mine is mixed) you have to admit this is one of the few carbon reduction strategies that seems to hold real promise in making a significant dent in total global carbon emissions. Here are some quick calcs:

• two thirds of all households are owner-occupied = 75 million.

• Let's say one third of those could afford to finance solar and live in states with proper rebates = 25 million.

• Let's say of those two fifth have reasonable solar access = 10 million.

• A typical household in the U.S. uses about 1000 kilowatts per year.

• At the national average of 1.3 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt = 13 billion pounds of CO2.

In other words, if 10 million typical U.S. homes went solar, supplying 100 percent of their electricity carbon-free, the U.S. would shed 6.5 million tons of CO2 annually. That's more than 1 percent of TOTAL U.S. carbon emissions — which doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that it's more than the entire carbon emissions of Ethiopia.

The same logic could be applied to the commercial sector which by my rough estimate could multiply this by a factor of 10, theoretically reducing our national impact by 10 percent or more. Where we get all those solar panels ... that's another matter. But the idea of helping to fund these investments through carbon credits is something that should be on the table.

Homeowners: Sell your own carbon credits
My Emissions Exchange just sold its first carbon credit on behalf of the Wilsons, a family in Harrisburg, PA. Welcome to the wacky world of personal carbon trad