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The Insidious Attack On Green Energy Is Not What You Think


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Power transmission lines stand near Avangrid Renewables’ Baffin Wind Power Project in Sarita, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. In the cut-throat Texas energy market, the construction of coastal wind turbines—some 900 in all—has had a profound impact. It’s been terrific for consumers, helping further drive down electricity bills, but horrible for natural gas-fired generators. Photographer: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg

Unilever says that its customers are demanding more sustainable products and that it has every intention of giving them what they want. The consumer goods company says that by 2020, it will quit buying coal-fired electricity and that by 2030, it will get all of electricity from renewables.

It’s a common corporate pursuit nowadays — one that businesses are doing because it is enhancing their brands and because it is curbing their electricity costs. Unilever, in fact, is part of the RE100 that consists of 131 companies that are shooting to get all of their electricity from green sources, often in the form of power purchase agreements that are long-term contracts with developers.

But that momentum is threatened without adequate transmission that can deliver the electricity from where it is generated to companies’ factories. It’s an insidious threat that if left unresolved could undermine the whole clean energy revolution.

“I think once you look at companies such as ours and Mars and Walmart, that are making these commitments, we’re going to continue to make more (commitments), we’re going to continue to buy more (green energy) as our companies grow more, or expand and things like that,” Stefani Millie Grant, senior manager for external affairs and sustainability for Unilever said in a webinar. “That’s more opportunities for transmission of renewable energy.”

Right now, 48% of the Fortune 500 and 63% of the Fortune 100 have promised to cut their greenhouse gases, increase their use of renewable energy or improve their energy efficiencies, according to David Gardiner and Associates. Altogether, the firm says that U.S. companies have purchased nearly 9,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy through power purchase agreements since 2013.&nbsp; &nbsp;

Upgrade or Expand?

Those commitments will at least double and probably triple, which means that federal regulators need the authority to approve projects when the states are indecisive. Consider that the&nbsp;Wind Energy Foundation&nbsp;says as much as 51,000 megawatts of renewable energy could fail to reach market if the transmission network is not expanded, all to accommodate corporate demand: 60,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2025 from such&nbsp; companies as Unilever, Johnson &amp; Johnson and General Motors.

“It’s all well and good to have commitments to buy renewable energy, but if we don’t have a way that that renewable energy can get to electricity demand centers and to factories and other kinds of things like that, it’s just not going to work,” David Gardiner said during the webinar.

In Texas, for example, wind is generated in rural sections and transported to population centers, allowing the transmission operator known as ERCOT to nearly double its use of wind energy. There, nearly $15 billion has been invested to generate about 19,500 megawatts of wind energy.

Independent System Operators in the Midwest and the Southwest are enacting similar policies. The Mid-continent Independent System Operator has approximately 37,000 megawatts of wind in its interconnection queue, and another 21,000 megawatts of solar in its interconnection queue, notes Eli Massey, senior advisor for MISO, during the conference.&nbsp;

For now, the existing transmission grid and the accompanying upgrades will be able to handle any wind energy expansion. But by 2030 — the timeframe many companies have given themselves to run entirely on green energy — more transmission will be needed. It won’t be easy. But the Independent System Operators must take the lead while the public may have to help finance it — much the same way it has with the interstate highway system.

“GM’s ability to access renewable energy is key to our decisions about where to expand new facilities,” Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy at General Motors said. “It’s essential that transmission planners take the growing corporate demand for renewables into account in the planning process.”

Corporate consumption is now driving the green energy movement. But that trend could get derailed if the wind and solar power it would be buying cannot be transmitted, which requires the grid to be both modernized and expanded. To this point, transmission planning has underestimated the upsurge in corporate demand, which has the potential to belie the whole New Energy Economy.

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Power transmission lines stand near Avangrid Renewables’ Baffin Wind Power Project in Sarita, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. In the cut-throat Texas energy market, the construction of coastal wind turbines—some 900 in all—has had a profound impact. It’s been terrific for consumers, helping further drive down electricity bills, but horrible for natural gas-fired generators. Photographer: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg

Unilever says that its customers are demanding more sustainable products and that it has every intention of giving them what they want. The consumer goods company says that by 2020, it will quit buying coal-fired electricity and that by 2030, it will get all of electricity from renewables.

It’s a common corporate pursuit nowadays — one that businesses are doing because it is enhancing their brands and because it is curbing their electricity costs. Unilever, in fact, is part of the RE100 that consists of 131 companies that are shooting to get all of their electricity from green sources, often in the form of power purchase agreements that are long-term contracts with developers.

But that momentum is threatened without adequate transmission that can deliver the electricity from where it is generated to companies’ factories. It’s an insidious threat that if left unresolved could undermine the whole clean energy revolution.

“I think once you look at companies such as ours and Mars and Walmart, that are making these commitments, we’re going to continue to make more (commitments), we’re going to continue to buy more (green energy) as our companies grow more, or expand and things like that,” Stefani Millie Grant, senior manager for external affairs and sustainability for Unilever said in a webinar. “That’s more opportunities for transmission of renewable energy.”

Right now, 48% of the Fortune 500 and 63% of the Fortune 100 have promised to cut their greenhouse gases, increase their use of renewable energy or improve their energy efficiencies, according to David Gardiner and Associates. Altogether, the firm says that U.S. companies have purchased nearly 9,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy through power purchase agreements since 2013.   

Upgrade or Expand?

Those commitments will at least double and probably triple, which means that federal regulators need the authority to approve projects when the states are indecisive. Consider that the Wind Energy Foundation says as much as 51,000 megawatts of renewable energy could fail to reach market if the transmission network is not expanded, all to accommodate corporate demand: 60,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2025 from such  companies as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and General Motors.

“It’s all well and good to have commitments to buy renewable energy, but if we don’t have a way that that renewable energy can get to electricity demand centers and to factories and other kinds of things like that, it’s just not going to work,” David Gardiner said during the webinar.

In Texas, for example, wind is generated in rural sections and transported to population centers, allowing the transmission operator known as ERCOT to nearly double its use of wind energy. There, nearly $15 billion has been invested to generate about 19,500 megawatts of wind energy.

Independent System Operators in the Midwest and the Southwest are enacting similar policies. The Mid-continent Independent System Operator has approximately 37,000 megawatts of wind in its interconnection queue, and another 21,000 megawatts of solar in its interconnection queue, notes Eli Massey, senior advisor for MISO, during the conference. 

For now, the existing transmission grid and the accompanying upgrades will be able to handle any wind energy expansion. But by 2030 — the timeframe many companies have given themselves to run entirely on green energy — more transmission will be needed. It won’t be easy. But the Independent System Operators must take the lead while the public may have to help finance it — much the same way it has with the interstate highway system.

“GM’s ability to access renewable energy is key to our decisions about where to expand new facilities,” Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy at General Motors said. “It’s essential that transmission planners take the growing corporate demand for renewables into account in the planning process.”

Corporate consumption is now driving the green energy movement. But that trend could get derailed if the wind and solar power it would be buying cannot be transmitted, which requires the grid to be both modernized and expanded. To this point, transmission planning has underestimated the upsurge in corporate demand, which has the potential to belie the whole New Energy Economy.

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