Going green is often easier said than done, but a new business organization is hoping to change that. While focusing on large-scale energy buyers, the group plans to push for changes that could make renewable power more accessible for all Americans.
Companies from a variety of industries — including Walmart, General Motors, Google and Johnson & Johnson — are forming a trade association to represent firms that purchase renewable energy and remove barriers that make it complicated to shift away from carbon.
The new organization, the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, is building on years of work between corporations and climate advocacy nonprofits. Currently, about 200 companies, cities and universities are involved.
Miranda Ballentine, the CEO of the new trade group, says the organization will help push energy markets and public policies to make it easier to actually choose to buy green energy.
It's harder than you might think for a company to choose renewables, Ballentine says.
"Especially in today's day and age, when we see many renewable energy technologies that are meeting or beating brown [conventional] power prices, you would think, 'Hallelujah! The day has come, clean energy is here, we can now just go out and buy it.' But there are a number of barriers," she says.
One is the way energy markets are set up. They vary by region — some areas allow more choice than others. But in many locations, buyers can't select a source for the energy they get from a utility.
"They can't actually say, 'I want power from that wind project over there,' " Ballentine says. "They literally cannot contract directly for certain sources of power."
In other cases, there are technological challenges. "Some renewable energy technologies like wind and solar don't produce 24/7 — they produce when the sun is shining and when the wind is blowing," Ballentine says. "And we as energy consumers ... we need our power 24/7," she says.
REBA hopes to flex its purchasing power to support technological innovation and push utilities to offer more green options — calling for changes to public policy where necessary.
"The demand side of the equation really has a unique role to play and really has a unique voice and ability to drive the clean-energy market," Ballentine says.
Many companies have set green energy targets as part of overall sustainability efforts — whether out of a sense of corporate responsibility or in the pursuit of positive PR.
But Steve Chriss, director for energy and strategy analysis at Walmart, says there's a financial calculation as well.
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Tuesday’s vote blocked the Green New Deal. Even if it had passed, the non-binding resolution would have called on the federal government to take specific steps to address climate change, but lacked the force of law compelling the government to do so.
The proposal has inspired a local version in the Maine Legislature. While the Maine proposal is similar in intent, it would create a task force to come up with the ways to meet its carbon reduction and renewable energy goals.
A public hearing on the bill is expected to take place in April.
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