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Tina Casey headshot

Leading U.S. Energy Buyers Support National Unity - On Clean Power, That Is

By Tina Casey
Clean Power

In the aftermath of the failed insurrection of January 6, Republican leaders have rallied around the idea that the nation must unify. As a matter of fact, the nation is already unified - only not around policies typically associated with the Republican brand. Clean power, for example, is an area in which unity has been emerging among business leaders as well as the general public, contrary to Republican policies that favor fossil fuels. In the latest development, some of the largest corporate clean power buyers in the U.S. have called upon President Joe Biden to prioritize the transition to a zero-carbon energy system.

Clean power and corporate unity

The latest push for clean power follows a five-year period of organized action by leading corporate energy buyers, highlighted by a strong show of unity around the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015.

In the run-up to the signing, 81 top U.S. corporations joined President Obama’s “American Business Act On Climate Pledge.” They also backed up their words with action. Even though the cost of clean power was still relatively high at the time, corporate buyers snapped up utility-scale wind and solar farms at a record-setting pace.

Fossil energy stakeholders and their allies pushed back, but the momentum continued to grow even after 2017, when former President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. The nonprofit organization Americas Pledge and the We Are Still In coalition were among the groups building unity on clean power across the board, including state and local governments as well as businesses, schools, nonprofits, and other entities.

Somewhat ironically, individual federal agencies also continued to support clean power stakeholders all throughout Trump’s term in office, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture. Even the Environmental Protection Agency contributed to such efforts through its ongoing Green Power Partnership program.

Last fall, America’s Pledge toted up the progress on clean power. They noted that only the state of Hawaii and 33 cities had 100 percent clean energy commitments in 2017. In the three years since then, the number jumped to 13 states, Puerto Rico, and 165 cities.  One-third of all people in the U.S. now live in a 100 percent clean-committed jurisdiction.

America’s Pledge also reported that the unified effort kept a national 2050 decarbonization goal within reach. However, they warned that strong federal climate policies were needed to keep the effort to shift toward clean power on track.

Accelerating action on climate change

The think tank Rocky Mountain Institute can take a good deal of credit for unifying corporate energy buyers in support of clean power, partly through REBA, the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

As one measure of the impact, in just two years one REBA member, McDonalds, was able to grow its position on the organization’s clean power tracker from practically zero to a place in the top 10 for utility-scale renewable energy purchases.

Another high-impact REBA member is General Motors. The automaker has been flexing its purchasing muscle to support renewable energy for all rate payers across the board, in support of its planned transition to electric vehicles.

Photo: Solar panels being installed atop the White House during the Obama administration.
Photo: Solar panels being installed atop the White House during the Obama administration (Image credit: The White House/Wiki Commons)

A new call for national unity

During the time leading to last fall's Election Day, REBA proposed a slate of reforms for wholesale energy markets that would accelerate wind and solar adoption.

Now the organization has upped the ante. In a new, first-of-its-kind public policy effort, REBA is calling for specific federal policy actions that support innovation and universal grid decarbonization, in addition to wholesale market reform.

Almost three dozen top brands and global companies operating in the U.S. have already signed on to the new REBA call for action, including Adobe, Amazon, Honda, the sustainable packaging firm Ardagh Group, Atlassian, Cargill, Danone, DSM, the data center firm Equinix, Facebook, GM, Google, Johnson & Johnson, the building materials firm LafargeHolcim, McDonalds, Micron Technology, Microsoft, Nestlé, Novozymes, PepsiCo, Ralph Lauren, Sabey Data Centers, the building products company Saint-Gobain, Salesforce, Target, Clorox, Disney, Unilever, the software firm VMware, Walmart, WeWork, Workday and Yum! Brands.

Unity on wholesale markets, technology, and innovation

Reform of wholesale energy markets would have a profound impact on decarbonization. As explained by Bryn Baker, REBA Policy Director, wholesale markets save energy customers billions of dollars annually. In addition, wholesale markets already serve two-thirds of U.S. customers.

Among other benefits, wholesale market reform and expansion would provide more customers with opportunities to deploy virtual Power Purchase Agreements, which have emerged as a powerful financial tool for corporations transitioning to clean power.

In the area of innovation, Baker notes that REBA members have demonstrated a keen interest in energy-related technologies over and above wind and solar power. That includes established pathways such as energy storage, energy efficiency in buildings, and reducing emissions from existing assets.

"Large energy buyers are creating a ‘demand pull’ for innovative technologies that often experience financing challenges and demonstration barriers,” Baker explains, citing green hydrogen and green ammonia among other next-generation technologies that will play a future role in decarbonization.

“With more federal R&D funding to help move those technologies through the innovation ecosystem and to support the demonstration of those projects, we'll see more large energy buyers be able to leverage and test those technologies,” Baker says.

National unity on the science of climate change

President Biden is himself an expression of national unity on climate change. He ran on a thoroughgoing science-based platform with a strong plank for climate action, and he won office by a wide margin in both the popular and Electoral College votes.

The voter unity on climate science is mirrored by corporate interest in the international Science-Based Targets initiative for climate action, which aims to keep global warming within the 1.5 degrees centigrade limit established by research.

Despite the momentum for change, significant policy barriers still hold sway, says Miranda Ballentine, CEO of REBA. She emphasizes the importance of creating science-based federal policies that remove obstacles for both corporate energy buyers and individual rate payers.

“Federal actions enable greening the grid for all customers, regardless of whether they can act independently or not to choose green energy,” Ballentine says.

Ballentine also notes that some corporations already have a running start, with more than 1,000 companies already involved in the science-based goal.

“So business leaders have fortunately been committed to climate science since before the Biden Administration,” she says. “What accelerated federal leadership will do is enable businesses that are already committed to decarbonization to take faster and cheaper action.”

Public unity on climate action

Ballentine cites Microsoft and Walmart as two companies that have committed to beating the 2050 decarbonization timeline by a wide margin. There are many more, and they have the weight of public opinion behind them.

Despite a decades-long disinformation campaign by fossil stakeholders and their allies,  the latest data from Yale University’s program on Climate Change Communication reveal a strong majority consensus on climate change and climate science, highlighted by 86 percent support for funding that supports clean power research.

There is no question that business leaders are on firm ground in the area of clean power. From that perspective, the fallout from the January 6 insurrection could help cut through the disinformation on climate change and amplify the corporate voice in support of decarbonization.

In the wake of the violence, corporate leaders have coalesced around the idea that sedition is a bad thing. Some have cut donations to 147 Republican members of Congress who supported former President Trump’s efforts to overthrow the U.S. government. Some, such as IBM, are also pushing for more long lasting reforms that restore trust in government.

The overall impact is to unify around the idea that the Republican party, in its current form, is dangerous to the common good and irrelevant to serious debate on matters of national public policy.

The Republican party didn’t only drop the ball on climate change. Racial justice, immigration, gun safety, and LGBTQ rights are among the many areas in which the business community has lent its voice to the mainstream of public opinion, regardless of the Republicans’ policies.

If that doesn’t count as unity, what does?

Image credit: Pexels

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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