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Corporate America greens its power use -- Big business goes for 1000 MW

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The low price of wind power means it heads the list of technologies being considered by 11 business giants -- including IBM, General Motors, DuPont, and Johnson & Johnson -- in a collaborative effort to develop corporate markets in the United States for 1000 MW of new green energy capacity. The collaboration was announced August 7 by two non-profit groups, the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank, and Business for Social Responsibility.

Ideally the 1000 MW is to come from green power plants in the US built by group members or from existing certified green electricity. "We hope to be able to create identifiable tools for the development or buying of renewables for various businesses," says David Monsma of Business for Social Responsibility.

On the basis of its likely cost-competitiveness, wind may well comprise the lion's share of the 1000 MW. "Clearly wind comes out on top," says Monsma. He cautions though that wind's winning position may change, if only because of questions about transmission costs, distribution and how it fits into carbon trading.

Terrific news

"This is terrific news," says Chris Flavin of Worldwatch Institute. He says the project could lead to a critical mass of industrial green power use that jump-starts the US market. "This is the logical way to develop renewables. There's a significant shift in corporate America. I think it goes well beyond green-washing."

The members of the "Green Power Marketing Development Group" -- in addition to America's largest computer, car, chemical and pharmaceuticals companies -- include copy giant Kinko's, Interface and Pitney Bowes as well as government agencies. Together they make up 7% of industrial energy use in the US.

First organised in May, the group is looking at wind power, solar-PV, landfill methane, small hydro, geothermal and perhaps fuel cells, as well as a few other technologies, to provide competitively priced energy, and other business advantages, that protect the earth's climate and reduce conventional air pollutants. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is on the group's advisory committee.

Potential developers and suppliers will already be contacted this month, says WRI's Jennifer Finlay. The first round of projects should be announced in May. Texas is a particularly attractive state for wind projects because some of the group's companies have multiple facilities there, says Finlay. Progress towards the 1000 MW goal will be monitored and publicised by the two non-profit organisations.

Trend starts

The companies involved are seeking to diversify their fuel mix and lower their costs at peak demand periods. Other partners include the US Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the US Environmental Protection Agency -- all part of the administration of President Bill Clinton, who leaves office in January -- and the non-profit Renewable Energy Policy Project.

"We're beginning to see a trend in corporate America's willingness to participate in competitive electric markets in order to make a significant down payment on our electric future," says Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. The companies involved are some of the world's largest and most prominent.

General Motors

"We see the development of renewable energy markets and emerging technologies as essential to address environmental and energy issues," says General Motors vice president Dennis Minano. Chemical giant DuPont says it has a goal of getting 10% of its energy from cost-competitive renewables. "We're excited about participating in this group because we hope it will help us reach that commitment," explains DuPont vice president Paul Tebo.

The announcement was made at the start of the National Green Marketing Conference in Denver and comes as one of the 11 companies, Kinko's, is signing up to buy wind power for half of its needs in New York state. The company, a copying shop with 24,000 employees in nine countries, is the first to agree to buy electricity from PG&E Corp's 11.5 MW Madison Windpower Project, being built with Vestas turbines in central New York state. Kinko's will buy about 4.5 million kWh of PG&E's "Pure Wind" certificates. It has previously bought renewables -- including wind -- for about 90 of its stores in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

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