Power to the People

Penny Bonda, FASID

Why are some companies beginning to take energy policy into their own hands?

Eco Design Matters

Power to the People
Why are some companies beginning to take energy policy into their own hands?

by Penny Bonda, FASID

The ill-conceived energy bill came perilously close to passage in both houses of Congress last year, thwarted only by a threatened filibuster in the Senate by a combination of Democrats and moderate Republicans uneasy with the provisions of the version passed by the House. The bill may or may not be resurrected in 2004 because lawmakers are less likely to compromise in an election year for fear of offending constituents, leaving crucial energy issues stuck in gridlock.

The 1,200-page bill had a price tag of $31 billion over 10 years, mostly in the form of tax breaks, and with its demise defers critical decisions such as the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and strategies to prevent another massive grid failure that left eight U.S. states and parts of Canada without electricity last August. It seems as though the White House and Congress, with its proclivity to bestow subsidies to their buddies in the oil, coal and gas industries and lawsuit protection to the makers of MTBE, a particularly nasty gasoline additive, have put the interests of the "special interests" above those of you and me.

Whether driven by disgust or impatience or simply the desire to do the right thing, it's not surprising that forward-thinking companies are beginning to take energy policy into their own hands. Green power, though available for years, has recently gained new advocates. Defined as alternatives to conventional fuels such as coal, oil or gas, green power strategies include electric, wind, geothermal, biomass and some small, low-impact hydro facilities. Environmental benefits are created when, for example, a building's electrical needs are displaced in whole or in part from the public utility's electrical grid. Additional benefits accrue by the prevention of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

A unique partnership has formed to explore the business potential of green power through an environmental think tank organized by The World Resources Institute (WRI). Composed of 12 large corporations, the goal of the Green Power Market Development Group (www.thegreeenpowergroup. org) is to develop corporate markets for 1,000 megawatts (MW) of new, cost competitive green power by 2010. The groups members are Alcoa Inc, Cargill Dow LLC, Delphi Corp., The Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, General Motors, IBM, Interface, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko's, Pitney Bowes and Staples. The first 97 MW purchases announced in September 2003 are enough to power 73,000 homes and include a wide variety of green power technologies and products to match corporate interests. From on-site solar power and landfill gas to electricity from wind farms, the projects offer the companies the best economic and environmental value and will avoid 960 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. This is equivalent to the amount of CO2 absorbed in a year by 86 million trees or by a forest the size of Shenandoah National Park.

"From hydrogen fuel cells to solar panels on rooftops, new green power products are emerging for corporate markets," said Jonathan Lash, president of the WRI. "These purchases help bring down prices, reduce pollution, and build a robust market to deliver a clean energy future."

For example, early last year Kinko's, expanding its ongoing efforts to integrate sustainable business practices into its operations, announced a significant increase in its annual green power use. Sixty-six Kinko's outlets in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington now utilize renewable energy, averting more than three million pounds of CO2 emissions annually. "Using renewable power is a necessary step for our business to take on its journey to becoming a more sustainable business. This action delivers the lasting environmental, economic and social benefits derived from using clean, renewable and locally produced energy," stated Larry Rogero, Kinko's director of environmental affairs.

Interface, a coalition member and a provider of materials to the buildings industry, has announced that its flooring systems division, in partnership with the city of LaGrange, GA and the EPA, will convert naturally-occurring methane gas from the local landfill into a green energy source to fuel two heaters and a boiler at Interface's Kyle plant. Landfill gas will replace approximately 20 percent of the natural gas used by the manufacturing facility. "This is a first for the carpet industry," said John Wells, president of IFS. "By turning waste into fuel for our manufacturing process, we are eliminating harmful emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. We are not only reducing our negative footprint, we are moving toward our goal of being a restorative company."

Additionally, Interface Fabrics Group (IFG), manufacturer of Terratex environmental fabrics, is now using wind, a clean and sustainable energy resource, to fuel 10 percent of its electrical energy needs at its Maine and Massachusetts operations. This year the company will purchase 2.5 million kilowatt hours of "green tags" (or renewable energy certificates) from an independent energy resource. According to the EPA, IFG's purchase of wind power will save approximately 4.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions each year, a number equivalent to taking 410 cars off the road.

Developers and builders are also beginning to look at green power as a competitive advantage. The Tower Companies, located just outside Washington, DC, will purchase more than 24 million kilowatt hours of green power from Green-e certified renewable biomass sources for 13 of its largest office and apartment buildings in the metro area. This purchase will prevent emissions equivalent to taking more than 2,100 cars off the roads and represents enough energy to power 2,100 homes annually. Five of its buildings are making purchases equal to 50 percent of their annual energy use. The Tower Companies state that it is committed to promoting sustainable commercial buildings and business environments.

How can design practices do the same? The LEED™ Green Building Rating System provides some guidelines in its Energy and Atmosphere section. Credit 6, Green Power, mandates at least 50 percent of a building's electricity be derived from renewable sources by engaging in at least a two- year renewable energy contract procured from a Green-e certified power marketer, a Green-e accredited utility program or through Green-e Tradable Renewable Certificates. This sounds confusing to the uninformed and requires an education in the Green-e Program, a voluntary certification and verification program for green electricity products. Those products exhibiting the Green-e logo are greener and cleaner than the average retail electricity product sold in a particular region. Refer to the > standard for more details at www.green-e.org.

Developing and using renewable energy options will proactively advance U.S. energy policy goals while at the same time contribute to efforts to curb global warming and to improve air pollution by reducing acid rain and smog. While individual and corporate efforts to do so are encouraging, it's time for a federal energy policy that includes renewable energy incentives. Poll after poll indicates that Americans are environmentalists at heart. If our federal government is stuck in its self-made quagmire of serving only its own interests, then the people must increase their demands for action. Should Washington fail to appropriately respond, Election Day is November 2, 2004.