By Joe Smyth | email@example.com | @joesmyth
The impacts of corporate renewable energy goals are increasing across three major sectors of Colorado’s economy: skiing, technology, and beer.
Last month I looked at how cities in Colorado are helping push utilities in the region to embrace renewable energy. Communities like Boulder, Aspen, and Pueblo have made 100% renewable energy commitments, and the utilities that serve them are responding with plans to invest in more wind and solar power – although progress is uneven across the various utilities and electric cooperatives throughout the state.
Along with municipalities, several companies with operations in Colorado have also made 100% renewable energy commitments, and those too are getting results, as utilities respond to these major customers with new programs and plans for more clean energy.
Two key trends are boosting the impact of these corporate renewable energy commitments. First, companies are increasingly focused on adding renewable energy near their operations, instead of purchasing renewable energy credits from distant projects. And second, much larger companies have recently made 100% renewable energy commitments, which is significantly increasing the scale of renewable energy needed to meet company goals - and somewhat altering the power dynamic between utilities and their customers.
Let’s look at how these trends are playing out in three industries in Colorado: skiing, technology, and beer.
Vail Resorts joins Aspen Skiing Company to push for more renewable energy
Aspen Skiing Company has been pursuing renewable energy for its operations for twenty years, but its approach has shifted over the years. The company’s Green Operations page notes:
Starting in 1997, Aspen Skiing Company (ASC) pioneered ski industry purchases of wind power, when we ran the Cirque lift on 100% wind power. From 2006 to 2008 ASC purchased renewable energy credits equivalent to our electricity use. When we initiated this purchase we were the largest purchaser of these credits in the ski industry. We discontinued these purchases to focus our efforts on conservation and the development of local and regional renewable energy projects.
That shift reflects a trend in corporate sustainability efforts, as many companies have determined that just buying renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset the impacts of the energy they use won’t have as much impact as trying to clean up the electricity that’s actually supplying their facilities.
Aspen Skiing Company has helped bring a variety of local energy projects on line, including solar arrays, a micro-hydroelectric generator, and a project that captures methane vented from a coal mine. The company worked with its electricity supplier to pursue those projects, and that has been a key part of pursuing its sustainability goals - Aspen Skiing Company's most recent sustainability report notes that “Our most effective strategy to reduce emissions is working with our utilities to choose lower carbon fuel sources.”
Holy Cross Energy, an electric cooperative that supplies power to Aspen Skiing Company resorts, is responding to customer demand for more local renewable energy, and in October announced plans for two new 5 megawatt solar arrays. In an interview, Holy Cross Energy CEO Bryan Hannegan explained that the co-op is also expanding and adjusting its renewable energy program in a way that will allow some of its customers to meet their 100% renewable energy goals.
Holy Cross Energy can’t yet meet all the needs of the ski resorts it serves with 100% renewable energy, in part because of the amount of energy the resorts use. Another challenge is that the co-op still gets most of its energy from coal, including its stake in the Comanche coal plant in Pueblo, Colorado. But Hannegan said the co-op is also looking at other renewable energy options and programs to help meet the needs of its biggest customers.
And customer demand for more renewable energy is growing. This past July, Vail Resorts announced its “Epic Promise,” which aims for zero net emissions by 2030 across the company’s operations. To reach that goal, Vail Resorts plans include “Purchasing 100 percent renewable energy equivalent to our total electrical energy use and working with utilities and local, regional and national governments to bring more renewable energy to the grids where we operate our resorts.”
Like Aspen Skiing Company’s focus on projects near its operations, Vail Resorts’ director of environmental sustainability Rob Whittier highlighted the importance of local renewable energy generation, saying “We want to take a thoughtful approach to identifying and investing in renewable energy projects, and where possible, to support local/community energy projects which are being discussed now, but may take some time to execute.”
Vail Resorts will likely need to pursue several projects to meet its 100% renewable energy commitment, because of its scale - in addition to Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Breckenridge resorts in Colorado, the company operates several other major ski resorts across North America, as well as lodging and real estate holdings.
The amount of renewable energy needed by larger companies like Vail Resorts is forcing utilities to consider broader changes, as Aspen Skiing Company Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler noted:
I have long argued that business ought to advocate for large scale policy solutions on climate and clean energy, because dealing with one’s own carbon footprint isn’t enough to solve the climate problem. I still believe that. But what we’re beginning to see is that large businesses looking for real, tangible, new clean power supply are making demands that push utilities towards just that big scale change.
Our local utility, Holy Cross Energy, is a great case study. Virtually every large entity they serve has said, simply: “We want 100% renewable energy.” As a customer-owed co-op, that means they will have to oblige. Fortunately, they are more than happy to pursue that path.
Moreover, much bigger companies than Vail Resorts have also made 100% renewable energy commitments, compelling larger utilities to respond as well.
Xcel Energy programs respond to major technology companies’ 100% renewable energy goals
Several large technology companies have made 100% renewable energy commitments, including giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. Each of those companies is also a signatory to the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, which include a preference for local projects:
Where possible, we would like to procure renewable energy from projects near our operations and/or on the regional energy grids that supply our facilities so our efforts benefit local economies and communities as well as enhance the resilience and security of the local grid.
Google, which recently expanded its Colorado operations with a new $131 million campus in Boulder, describes how it will achieve its 100% renewable energy goal:
As we continue to pursue renewable energy purchases as we grow, we will focus even more on regional renewable energy purchases in the local markets where we have data centers and operations.
Similarly, IBM’s strategy and approach regarding renewable electricity purchases states:
IBM's strategy is to procure renewable electricity that is generated in the grid regions where IBM's facilities are located. When possible, we match our purchases to the physical consumption of our facilities so that we are consuming the electricity at the same time that the renewable electricity is being generated.
That strategy is reflected in IBM’s announcement last month that it will build a 6 megawatt solar array at its campus near Boulder. IBM is participating in Xcel Energy’s Large Solar*Rewards program for the project, which the utility runs to support major customers looking to install on-site solar.
Xcel Energy Colorado President David Eves called the project “an example of providing customers individual control over their energy choices, a key component of the Our Energy Future initiative outlined in 2016.” Xcel plans to offer larger amounts of solar power to big customers under the program in 2018 and 2019.
Xcel Energy also touted its ability to support corporate renewable energy goals as part of the state of Colorado’s bid to host Amazon’s second headquarters.
Like other major technology companies, Amazon has committed to power its data centers with 100% renewable energy. Amazon’s Seattle headquarters includes innovative approaches such as a district heating system using waste heat from nearby data centers, though it’s not clear how the company will consider renewable energy in its search for a second headquarters location.
A spokesperson for Amazon said “We are not commenting beyond our press release on HQ2,” but also noted that the company’s Request for Proposal for a second headquarters has “a special focus on sustainability.” The Amazon RFP discusses the company’s sustainability efforts at its Seattle headquarters and says, “We also invest in large solar and wind operations and were the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. in 2016. Amazon will develop HQ2 with a dedication to sustainability.”
Colorado officials released a redacted version of the states’ response to Amazon’s RFP last month, which offers a glimpse at how state officials and Xcel Energy are highlighting their capacity to supply Amazon with renewable energy.
Colorado’s bid includes a note to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos from Governor Hickenlooper, who highlights that “we're pushing forward on a clean energy future” among other reasons Amazon should consider choosing Colorado for its second headquarters.
Xcel Energy contributed to Colorado’s bid, including a page detailing its progress on renewable energy and ability to meet 100% renewable goals:
As major technology companies expand, their stated preference for local renewable energy projects will compel more municipalities and utilities to respond with new programs and clean energy projects. Regions with utilities that are not willing to support corporate clean energy goals could lose out on investments from companies that are serious about their commitments.
Fort Collins brewing companies will need a lot more renewable energy, as Anheuser-Busch joins New Belgium 100% renewable energy commitment
Another example of the growing scale and impact of corporate renewable energy goals can be seen across some of Colorado’s largest brewing companies.
New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins has been buying renewable energy for two decades, and says that it “became the country’s first brewery to purchase 100% of its electricity from wind power in 1999.” The company highlights the broader impact that its early renewable energy commitment had on Fort Collins municipal utility:
Our commitment as the single largest subscriber in the program allowed Fort Collins Utilities to become Colorado’s first electric utility to offer wind power. This is an example of “the ripple effect” that we strive to have, finding ways to create a positive impact that ripples throughout our community & supply chain.
Like Aspen Skiing Company, in recent years New Belgium has shifted the focus of its sustainability efforts, and in 2013 implemented an internal electricity tax “as a means to invest in future renewable energy and energy efficiency projects directly within our facilities.”
Meanwhile, much larger brewing companies are now moving toward renewable energy, which could turn those ripples into waves. In March, Anheuser-Busch announced a commitment to secure 100% of its purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025. As the world’s largest brewing company, meeting that commitment will require a lot of new renewable energy - so far, Anheuser-Busch has announced a 220 megawatt wind energy project in Mexico, and a 152 megawatt portion of a wind energy project in Oklahoma.
Last week, Anheuser-Busch also announced plans to install solar arrays at some of its breweries in 2018. A spokesperson for Anheuser-Busch said “Breckenridge Brewery will absolutely be receiving solar panels and we’re assessing the other facilities” in Colorado.
When a major electricity customer like Anheuser-Busch insists on renewable energy, utilities tend to listen.
The Platte River Power Authority provides power to municipal utilities in Northern Colorado, including Fort Collins where Anheuser-Busch operates a huge, 1 million square foot facility where Budweiser and other beers are brewed. Fort Collins Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak, who serves on the Platte River Power Authority board, told the Coloradoan:
We’re very receptive to major customers. These entities are encouraging us to (pursue renewable energy), and if we don’t — given how the energy markets are, they’ll get renewables from somebody else.
Earlier this month, Platte River Power Authority indicated how it might respond to growing demand for renewable energy, by releasing a Zero Net Carbon Modelling Report that outlines how it could significantly expand wind and solar energy and exit coal generation by 2030. As a first step, the utility is planning to add 150 megawatts of new wind energy, according to the Coloradoan. Other key Platte River Power Authority stakeholders have also called for 100% renewable energy, including Colorado State University and the Mayor of Longmont.
Many companies' renewable energy commitments aim to reach 100% renewable energy over the next decade or so. That means those companies - especially the largest ones that use the most electricity - will need to procure increasing amounts of renewable energy over the next few years, in order to make progress toward those goals. Utilities will either respond to meet those major customers' needs, or risk losing their business.
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