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Clean energy use on rise in US

The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2016, By Cassandra Sweet

US companies are cutting emissions and buying clean energy at the fastest pace ever, as lower renewable prices and easier availability of sources makes these economical options.

Companies such as have started to embrace energy generated from wind, solar and other clean-energy sources in earnest this past year, while General Motors and Whole Foods Market have doubled down on their renewable energy usage.

US companies, in 2015, agreed to buy 3440 megawatts of solar and wind power under long-term contracts — enough to power Sacramento, California — and, roughly three times the amount they bought in 2014, said Herve Touati, research director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean-energy think tank. Displacing fossil fuel energy with that amount of renewable energy is roughly equivalent to taking 1.4 million cars off the road, according to the institute.

“It’s a combination of social pressure on large, visible corporations to do good for the world, and the fact that today you can sign deals that are attractive economically,” Mr Touati said.

A decline in renewable prices alongside a larger energy slump are playing a key part in the shift. The price of wind power averaged $US29 a megawatt-hour in 2015, down 27 per cent from 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Solar power bought under multiyear contracts also fell last year to $US57 a megawatt-hour on average, down by nearly a fifth from 2012. One megawatt of wind energy can serve about 270 average US homes, and the same amount of solar power can serve 164 average homes.

The price of fossil fuel based power averaged $US35 a megawatt-hour in 2015, according to analysis of data compiled by the Energy Department.

GM signed a deal last year to operate more than half its assembly line in a Dallas suburb on electricity generated by a west Texas wind farm. Workers at the plant in Arlington, Texas, are expected to assemble 1200 Chevrolet Suburbans, GMC Yukons and Cadillac Escalades daily using a renewable power source when the wind farm goes online later this year.

GM says it has saved more than $US80 million ($107.6m) from green-energy purchases and investments since 1993, when it started on its renewable initiatives, said Rob Threlkeld, the company’s global manager of renewable energy.

“Any renewable energy project has to provide a savings,” he said, adding that in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana the carmaker is using electricity generated from burning landfill gas and trash to power its factories.

Mounting solar panels on the roofs of its big-box stores and warehouses has helped Wal-Mart trim its power bills. With nearly 350 commercial solar installations on its buildings, the company outpaces every other US corporation for on-site solar adoption, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“The financial impact is important to us. Our customers vote with their pocket books,” said David Ozment, Wal-Mart’s senior director of energy.

Wal-Mart buys enough wind, solar and other renewables each year to power 26 per cent of its stores, warehouses and distribution centres around the world.