The list of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership (GPP) partners meeting 100 percent of their electricity needs from clean, renewable sources continues to rise. More than 650 U.S. organizations now rely wholly on “green” power resources – such as solar, wind and geothermal – to meet their electricity needs, according to the GPP program’s latest quarterly report, which was released July 28.
Collectively, green energy use among GPP’S “100 Percent Green Power Users” amounted to nearly 12 billion kilowatt-hours, which the EPA highlights “is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the electricity use of more than 1.1 million average American households each year.”
The wide variety of U.S. organizations sourcing 100 percent of their electricity from renewable power generation reflects the increasing viability of relying on green power across the U.S. economy and society. They range from the largest public- and private-sector organizations – such as Intel, Kohl’s Department Stores, the World Bank Group and the EPA itself – through medium- and small-scale organizations, such as the National Hockey League (NHL), Santa Cruz Organic and around 100 U.S. schools, from high schools and colleges to the largest universities.
EPA’s Green Power Partnership
A voluntary program established in 2001 to “encourage organizations to use green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with conventional electricity use,” the ranks of U.S. organizations participating in the GPP now exceed 1,300.
Qualifying for the GPP is based on the percentage of electricity a U.S. organization obtains from green power sources, which the GPP defines as solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass and low-impact, small-scale hydroelectric. That qualifying percentage increases with an organization’s annual energy usage.
Green power and climate change mitigation
Electricity generated from conventional fossil fuel sources is one of, if not the, largest contributor of pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by U.S. organizations. Hence, making use of emissions-free electricity is one of the best ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, EPA GPP Program Director Blaine Collison, points out in a GPP podcast.
Recent data show that GPP participants are purchasing some 16 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green electricity per year, enough to meet the needs of about 1.5 million average US homes.
Green power and green job creation
Green power purchases also play a big role in U.S. green job creation. As Collison notes, renewable energy generation requires new technologies, and that requires manufacturing, as well as a wide range of downstream and sales, marketing, administrative and managerial positions be filled.
Wind energy manufacturing, for example, Collison continued, is contributing to the revitalization of shuttered “Rust Belt” factories, transforming them from abandoned, decaying structures into core elements of “the emerging green economy that’s creating new domestic manufacturing jobs and making the energy technology that’s going to power the U.S. in the 21st century.”
Green power purchases by U.S. schools
U.S. schools are well represented in the GPP program. “An enormous number of schools in the U.S., spanning an incredible size range” are participating, Collison noted.
“All have electricity loads and they all have a pretty interesting set of stakeholders in students and faculty that have a very high commitment level to environmental stewardship, and they are looking for ways to improve their environmental performance.”
Over 80 U.S. schools of all types and sizes – public, private, large and small – are making green power purchases, accounting for around 10 percent of total GPP purchases. According to Collison:
“They’ve played an interesting and important role [in GPP], and they have been some of the early leaders. They have found green power purchases are in really good alignment with their own operational and educational missions.”
Interest in green power among U.S. schools has been strong enough to warrant the EPA to launch a college-university green power challenge competition. This year, the University of Pennsylvania took top honors as the single largest purchaser of green power for the third consecutive year.
Green power purchase costs
Turning to the costs of green power purchasing, Collison explained that they can vary dramatically by technology and geography. Wind power is cheap and plentiful in West Texas, for example, which translates into low green power costs, while the cost of solar power generation in Buffalo, NY Comes at a premium.
Not privy to green power prices from utilities and large-scale project developers, GPP does have a handle on residential green power prices and premiums. These can range from around 5 to 10 cents/kWh depending on technology and geography. It is possible, Collison continued, that green power purchases come in cheaper than conventional power purchases in some scenarios, however.
The other significant aspect of green power purchases is that they offer organizations the ability to lock-in power supplies at fixed costs over the long-term. That’s a distinct operational and strategic advantage for businesses and public-sector organizations that consume lots of electricity.
Collison pointed out that renewable energy resources such as solar and wind energy don’t require fuel inputs, so they have zero-fuel cost, and hence no price volatility. Utilities are now offering long-term fixed price green power products to the public, he added.
Purchasing green power
Aiming to assist U.S. organizations make the transition to using green power, GPP’s Green Power Locator provides geographic information about green power options available across the U.S. In addition, the GPP’s “Guide to Purchasing Green Power” provides “an overview of green power markets and describes the necessary steps to buy green power” that covers direct green power purchases, renewable energy certificates (RECs) and on-site renewable generation.
*Image credits: 1, 2): US EPA; 3, 5): U.S. Energy Information Administration; 4) American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)