"Today, buying green electricity distinguishes corporate leaders from laggards who stay with dirty brown power," says Beatrice Olivastri of Friends of the Earth (FOE) Canada, the environmental organisation spearheading the initiative. FOE plans to repeat the idea in Alberta in the near future. "Buying green electricity is a powerful step in addressing local concerns about air pollution and global concerns about climate change."
Air quality concerns in Toronto, which experienced 33 smog alert days last summer, helped prompt the distribution arm of the city's electric utility to say it will buy green power to cover 25% of its in-house electricity needs within five years. Toronto Hydro-Electric System Limited uses about 21,000 MWh a year. "Our green energy purchase sends a strong signal to consumers, to our customers, to our employees and to other municipalities that cleaner air is everyone's concern," says Toronto Hydro's Richard Lu.
The utility is the first of the four to actually sign a contract for green power. It plans to begin by buying 5% of its demand this year from a 750 kW Lagerwey wind turbine being constructed by Toronto Hydro's retail arm and joint venture partner, the Toronto Renewables Energy Co-operative (TREC). The partners will split the turbine's output, with TREC selling its share to Toronto Hydro. Co-op members will receive an annual dividend in proportion to the number of shares they own. TREC has already sold half the shares it has available in the turbine, netting C$400,000 just one month into its sales effort.
Interface Flooring Systems Canada, the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the country, says it will buy wind power to cover all of its electricity needs by the end of the year. Rahumathulla Marikkar, the company's environmental director, says he is negotiating with a supplier and expects the switch to add about C$100,000 to the firm's power bills annually. Marikkar argues for the higher price, saying it is in the interests of companies to deal with issues like poor air quality and climate change. This is particularly true for Interface, he says, which manufactures an oil-intensive product. "When we show leadership in this area, definitely there is a lot of attention and commitment from our customers," he adds.
Other charter members of the coalition are Dupont Canada, a chemical and textile manufacturer, which says 10% of its power will come from renewable sources by 2010, and the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority, which is committed to greening 10% of its electricity by 2003.