Now just about every kind of big company is doing so in a surge of power purchase agreements and other investments that curtail greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, non-tech companies that ponied up for renewable energy include Starbucks, Target, Partners HealthCare, General Motors, paper manufacturer Kimberly Clark, cereal maker General Mills and brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev.
“The corporate renewables market is now seeing deals from all industry sectors,” said Kevin Haley, marketing manager at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewable Center, which tracks such deals, on Monday. “An increasing number of nonutility buyers … believe they need to be part of the sustainability solution.” It helps that renewable energy is getting cheaper, he added.
It’s a sign of how social and economic forces make green energy a big deal even in the bluest of blue-chip companies — despite President Donald Trump’s assertion that he has “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”
Renewable-energy purchases have happened for years, in part because of expectations that regulations to deal with climate change would make fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions more costly. Now, though, the Trump administration is pushing the opposite direction — trying to revive coal as an energy source, repealing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that targeted coal power plant emissions, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions and wiping out mention of climate change from government websites.
But at least some businesses are still pushing for sustainable energy. So far, renewable energy deals in 2018 are on pace to surpass the 2.78 gigawatts worth of power in 2017’s publicly announced deals, the Business Renewable Center figures show. So far this year, they’ve signed up for 1.96GW, which if sustained means renewable energy could surpass the peak of 3.12GW in 2015.
“Corporate buyers are actually prioritizing environmental sustainability in even greater numbers in the wake of the Paris accord withdrawal, as evidenced by commitments like America’s Pledge and RE100 — a 100 percent renewables commitment with over 130 corporate signatories,” Haley said. “The rebound in corporate purchasing we’ve seen in 2017 and 2018 are further evidence that companies are turning commitment into action, despite a lack of significant support at the federal level.”
Trump administration tariffs targeting solar panels and steel imported from China are increasing the costs to build renewable energy plants using solar and wind power, he added, “but the pace of growth in 2018 so far certainly suggests that there will not be a significant reduction in adoption rates of renewables by corporate buyers.”
From 2008 to 2013, only four companies signed deals for renewable energy: Google, Apple, Walmart and cleaning products maker SC Johnson. From 2013 to 2018, though, 51 more companies joined the trend.
Tech companies including Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, T-Mobile and AT&T joined Google and Apple, and their collective appetite still accounts for more than half of the renewable power purchased. AT&T is a relative latecomer, but in February it announced plans to buy an immense 520 megawatts of power from wind farms in Oklahoma and Texas.
“AT&T recognizes that climate change is a problem,” the company said in announcing its deals.
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