Engaging on Energy: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Demand for Renewable Energy

This blog was written by Katy Townsend, former Development Coordinator at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | April 5, 2017 | Energy Policy, Solar, Wind

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to a company’s voluntary commitment to responsible business practices that benefit society. CSR accounts for the social and environmental impacts a business has in the course of its operations – a concept often referred to as the “triple bottom line.” The “triple bottom line” (TBL) describes three different “bottom lines” a company should consider. In addition to the traditional bottom line, “profit,” a company should also consider “people” (how socially responsible it has been) and “planet” (how environmentally responsible it has been).

As part of meeting their commitment to the environment, many companies have set ambitious sustainability goals. As of 2016, 33 U.S.-based, mostly Fortune 500 companies have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.[1] Furthermore, 71 Fortune 100 companies and 215 Fortune 500 companies have a renewable energy target, a sustainability target, or both.[2] In addition to winning over customers, these goals have the added benefit of cutting costs, for example by using less energy or reducing the amount of packaging used. When it comes to the cost of energy, renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs) are more stable and predictable than volatile fossil fuels, making low-cost renewable energy an attractive investment not only for fulfilling CSR goals, but also as a way to mitigate the financial risks of more traditional energy sources.[3]

Renewable energy contracts for nearly six gigawatts (GW) of capacity have been announced in the past four years, and it is estimated that the top 50 corporate purchasers of solar and wind energy in the U.S. will add over 17 GW of renewables by 2020.[4] Unfortunately, the Southeast lags behind the rest of the country in the 2017 Corporate Clean Energy Index, which measures how easy it is for companies to procure renewable energy in all 50 states. The Northeast, Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions were the highest ranked, generally due to supportive policies and enabling market structures. According to the 2017 Corporate Clean Energy Index report, commercial and industrial (C&I) buyers were responsible for more than half of wind energy PPAs in 2015, surpassing utilities.

In contrast to other states in the Southeast region, North Carolina ranks third in the country for installed solar power, despite have a “mixed policy environment” – for example, third party financing is illegal, but up until 2017 the state had one of only five green tariffs in the country.[5] Duke Energy’s Green Source Rider, which ended in December 2016, allowed companies to buy large amounts of renewable power directly from utilities, so there were no additional costs to ratepayers. North Carolina is one of only three states to have renewable energy deployment through direct corporate ownership of an offsite facility. The state has over 130 MW of corporate solar deployment from companies like Google, Apple and Cisco.[6]

While there are a few noteworthy wind and solar projects from corporations in the Southeast (see below), our region could better take advantage of low wind and solar prices to meet corporate demand for renewables. According to Michael Skelly, the President of Clean Line Energy Partners (a transmission line developer), the commercial and industrial sector wants to pursue clean energy, and “for the Southeast to continue to be a great business environment for these companies, they need to offer energy products that these companies want.”

  • Amazon, the online retailer, will purchase power from a new, 208 megawatt (MW), 104 turbine wind farm in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East, which is owned and operated by Avangrid, will power an Amazon web services data center in Virginia. This is North Carolina’s first utility-scale wind farm and the largest wind farm in the Southeast.[7] Amazon also has several solar farms in Virginia, including an 80 MW solar farm in Accomack County, five 20 MW solar farms in separate counties, and a 100 MW facility in Southampton County.
  • Google enrolled in Duke Energy’s Green Source Rider program to supply its expanded data center in Lenoir, North Carolina. Google will be purchasing energy from a 61MW solar project in Rutherford County. With commitments reaching 2.6GW, Google is the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy, and is set to meet its goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy in 2017.
  • Apple has built three solar projects in North Carolina totaling 57MW.[8] This includes a 100-acre solar farm with 20MW of capacity across from its data center in Maiden (finished in 2012), a 20MW solar farm in Conover and a 5 MW farm in Claremont. In 2015, 93 percent of Apple’s energy came from renewables.
  • Lockheed Martin, a government defense contractor, signed a PPA with a solar farm in eastern North Carolina (which is outside Duke Energy’s territory). Lockheed Martin secured a 17-year contract for 30MW of solar.[9]
  • Wal-Mart has a deal with Alabama Power under which the utility is contracting with a developer to construct a 72MW solar farm and then contracting to sell most of that power to Wal-Mart.[10]
  • BMW installed solar panels to power its Zentrum Museum in Greer, South Carolina, as well as three electric vehicle-charging stations throughout the main facility.
  • Boeing powers its North Charleston, South Carolina site with 10 acres of rooftop solar coupled with renewable energy credits purchased from the local utility.

[1] D. Manning, J. Cook, J. Culkin, C. Edmonds, K.H. Hoffer, J. Lyng, and T. Plant. (December 2016). Part 4: Private Procurement, Public Benefit: Integrating Corporate Renewable Energy Purchases with Utility Resource Planning. Available at: http://www.ourenergypolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CNEE_Corporate-Procurement.pdf

[2] Advanced Energy Economy. (2016). 2016 Corporate Advanced Energy Commitments. Available at: http://info.aee.net/growth-in-corporate-advanced-energy-demand-market-benefits-report

[3] Manning et al

[4] Manning et al

[5] Retail Industry Leaders Association, Information Technology Council and Clean Edge, Inc. (January 2017). Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index: State Leadership & Rankings. Available at: https://www.rila.org/sustainability/RetailEnergyManagementProgram/Documents/RILAITICEIndex.pdf

[6] Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index: State Leadership & Rankings

[7] Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index: State Leadership & Rankings

[8] Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index: State Leadership & Rankings

[9] 2016 Corporate Advanced Energy Commitments

[10] Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index: State Leadership & Rankings

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