Power Of 'Green' Attracts Big Biz

The sky lightens just before dawn behind the cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio, Aug. 15, 2003, which shut down during the outage.
Some of the country's major corporations are embracing the idea of thinking "green" when buying electricity in hopes of spurring the development of renewable energy sources — while in many cases also helping their own bottom line.

The World Resources Institute brought together a dozen major U.S. companies and got them to pledge that by 2010 at least 1,000 megawatts of the power they use will come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen fuel cells.

While still small compared to the total amount of electricity used by many of the companies, that amount of power would be equal to the electricity generated by a typical large coal-burning power plant. It's about the same amount of power used to supply 750,000 homes.

In a major step toward achieving the goal, the coalition of companies, known as the Green Power Market Development Group, on Wednesday was announcing the completion of deals covering 97 megawatts of power from renewable sources. It would bring their total to 112 megawatts since the program began two years ago.

The new agreements will mean some of the companies will be getting 10 percent of their electricity from non-fossil renewable energy, said Jennifer Layke, director of the program for World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think tank.

"These corporations are discovering that diversifying their energy sources with renewables can make business sense" and at the same time boost investment in renewable energy development, said Craig Hanson, the program's manager for the institute. In some cases companies see the shift to renewables as a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices, he said.

Some of the companies committed to the programs are familiar names: General Motors Corp., Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Kinko's and Staples Inc.

"The group is beginning to make green power markets work for corporate buyers," said Charles O. Holiday Jr., DuPont chairman.

Even so, electricity from windmills, solar panels, biomass and even hydrogen fuel cells currently accounts for less than 2 percent of the total power produced. More than half of the nation's electricity comes from plants burning coal and most of the rest from natural gas, nuclear reactors and hydroelectric dams.

Some members of Congress want to require utilities to produce 10 percent to 20 percent of their power from renewable energy. But such a mandate has been opposed by the industry, Republican congressional leaders and the White House. They say the issue should be left to the marketplace.

The World Resources Institute program, which reflects purchases for 250 facilities in 22 states, includes a wide range of green power technologies from onsite solar power and landfill gas to electricity from wind farms as well as a green power "credit" system.

For example, Dow Chemical will get 35 megawatts of power from 500 fuel cell units, made by General Motors, at the Dow plant in Freeport, Texas. The hydrogen already is produced as a byproduct at the Dow plant.

At the same time, GM committed itself to shifting away from using natural gas as some of its facilities to using more landfill methane gas, a renewable product, as part of the World Resources Institute program.

Another participant, Staples Inc., the office supply retailer, has focused much of its attention on buying "green tag" credits, a renewable energy trading mechanism.

By purchasing a "green tag" certificate, a company helps to financially support a wind farm or other renewable energy project in another part of the country, while claiming a credit for pollution that will be avoided as a result of that renewable energy project.

Mike Zolton, manager for energy and maintenance for Dallas-based Kinko's, said his company became more interested in renewables because of the wild fluctuations in natural gas prices. He sees wind, although still not cheap, as a hedge against natural gas price jumps.

About 10 percent of the electricity bought by Kinko's and by Staples now comes from renewable purchases, the spokesmen said.