Seeking: Leading Companies to Drive Renewable Energy Revolution

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, Walmart joined Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, and Sprint in signing the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Principles. The goal of these Principles is to increase availability of cost-competitive renewable energy to run their businesses and better communicate their purchasing needs and expectations to the marketplace. 

What can rotary dial telephones, cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and door to door milk delivery teach us about the renewable energy revolution? They show us how once commonplace products and services have and will always be replaced by newer ones. It’s not farfetched to say 2014 is to renewable energy what 1955 was to the CRT TV – the golden age of renewable energy is just now upon us.

Many of America’s largest companies are also convinced that a clean energy future is what they want, and they’ve set significant goals to get there. In fact, 43% of Fortune 500 companies have set renewable energy and efficiency targets, and – better still – 60% of the Fortune 100 have set targets.

These corporations are demonstrating real progress toward their goals. For example, Mars, Inc., a food company known for its chocolate products, recently announced that it will build a 200-megawatt (MW) wind farm in Lamesa, TX, which, according to Mars, is the largest long-term commitment to renewable energy made by any food manufacturing business in the U.S. We read about other large deals nearly every day.

In the process of switching to renewable energy, companies have gained a great deal of experience. Unfortunately, this transition hasn’t been easy. Utilities have been slow to respond to their major customers’ needs. When the companies bypass their utilities to purchase renewable energy elsewhere, they are having successes, but face complex deals and financing arrangements making it hard to buy renewables at the scale they need.

What do the companies want? The companies want utilities, utility regulators, and providers of renewable energy to understand that they have large demand for clean renewable energy. The system that exists now makes it difficult to meet their goals. But companies are willing, and in many cases would prefer to work with all these key players to make renewable energy available more quickly.

In every other aspect of their business, companies are used to a competitive market for the commodities they buy. The best quality goods at the most favorable terms win the contract. However, where energy is concerned -- and particularly renewable energy -- companies have far fewer choices. In many markets, companies have no choice at all. In others, choices are extremely limited or require a price premium over fossil-fuel produced energy, in quantities too small to meet the company needs, and subject to ongoing price volatility. All in all, this hinders companies’ ability to meet their renewable energy targets and discourages the setting of more ambitious targets. We should be rewarding these corporate leaders trying to do the right thing with their energy use, not slowing them down.

On the upside, there is a huge opportunity available to utilities and renewable energy providers who can bring companies what they need. The companies that have signed onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles alone account for 8.4 million megawatt hours of demand per year, enough electricity to power nearly 800,000 homes each of the next few years. Many of these companies would prefer to meet this need by purchasing renewable electricity through their local utility companies, but if utility companies are unable to provide it, they are -- and will -- continue to go elsewhere.

A more robust, open renewable energy market with innovative tariffs would create the competition needed to encourage other companies to set and meet aggressive renewable targets, something that would literally benefit the entire planet. If that sounds like a good idea to you, we welcome more companies to sign onto the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles.

Intrigued? Shoot me an email and we’ll talk about meeting your company’s renewable energy targets. For utility regulators, it’s time to find out what your customers want and find a way to meet that need. If you don’t, someone else will.

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As Customers Change, So Has Cyber Monday

Last weekend, my son innocently asked me, “What was it like before Wi-Fi?” The question gave me serious pause – I remember when I was young asking my own parents what it was like before television.  How quickly things have changed. 

It may be hard to remember now, but there was a time when Wi-Fi wasn’t so widespread. We didn’t have high-speed Internet access at home. And when it came to continuing holiday shopping after Black Friday, many of us waited until Monday to take advantage of the dependable, faster connection at work. And as millions of customers did just that, Cyber Monday was born.

Over the years, it’s become huge. The biggest online shopping day of the year for us. And yes, millions of customers still shop on Monday morning, opting for clicks and carts versus email and spreadsheets. But as faster Internet speeds have become ubiquitous, and as mobile has swept across the landscape, connecting even more Americans to the Internet whenever they wanted, so many of them have felt compelled to stay awake past midnight to access the best specials the moment they were posted.

But it’s 2015 now, and as we’re increasingly able to access the Internet anytime, anywhere, there’s less of a reason to have to stay up late or fit our shopping into the workday. We can do it when and how we like.

At Walmart, our research shows this interesting find:

That’s why this year, we’re starting our Cyber Monday hours earlier on Sunday evening, making it easier for customers to get ahead on saving money during the busiest online shopping day of the year. Historically, when Walmart released select Cyber Monday deals on Sunday evening, our website traffic increased significantly. Customers have changed, but until now, Cyber Monday hasn’t really changed with them. We’re making shopping faster and easier, all season long.

Maybe at some point in the future, the next generation may ask with wide-eyed disbelief, “Did you really stay up past midnight to shop online?”

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The Farm That Grows Clean Energy

Working for Pattern Energy, I have a front row seat in the global push to renewable energy.

My rush comes when I see a new wind farm being erected on the horizon, because I know that translates into improved air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, preservation of natural resources – even affordable long-term energy pricing.

But projects with that kind of impact don't happen without significant investment, and oftentimes, that requires big players stepping to the table. That’s why Logan’s Gap, a newly constructed, 87-turbine wind farm in Comanche County, Texas, has my adrenaline pumping. Logan’s Gap represents a major commitment that probably wouldn't be here without Walmart’s financial backing. Because Walmart set such a bold aspirational goal – to be powered 100% by renewable energy – and has stable credit, financing for such a project was made possible. And the benefits are huge.

Walmart signed a 10-year power purchase agreement to acquire 58% of the expected output from the Logan’s Gap wind project. That investment alone will supply more than 25% of Walmart’s electricity needs in deregulated areas of Texas, serving more than 380 Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers. It also represents nearly 18% of the U.S. portion of the retailer’s goal to produce or procure 7 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy by 2020.

In the end, it’s smart business. Walmart and other organizations that invest in wind, solar and other renewable energy resources lock in affordable energy costs for multiple years. But, in doing so, they’re also decarbonizing themselves. They're being great environmental stewards, and every one of us reap the benefits.

A big part of my job is contemplating where we’ll be four to five years from now in terms of energy. What will the energy mix be – from wind to solar to a combination of the two? What will the price structure look like?

We’re relentless in our commitment to forecasting wind activity, because that’s what helps determine return on investment. At Pattern Energy, we have six full-time meteorologists on staff, crunching enormous amounts atmospheric data around the world. They’ve helped us pinpoint the best locations – Logan’s Gap included – to construct wind farms in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada and Chile.

As far as the science of forecasting has come in recent years, so has the technology associated with the wind turbines themselves. I remember the days when a wind turbine height of 40 meters was huge. Today, 100 meters is pretty much standard. For every meter we’re able to go higher and wider, we create the opportunity to capture more clean energy.

But it’s not always as easy as pinpointing an optimal location and putting technology to work. A lot of areas around the world are highly regulated. In Texas, for example, there’s a lot of open land, so there are typically fewer hurdles. In more densely populated areas of the East Coast, however, you have to take into account how details such as noise level and views will be impacted. It's critical to find the right balance.

Despite these and other hurdles that sometimes exist, we’re starting to see an increase in interest from global players, like Walmart. They're demonstrating that it's possible to run a very successful business while also being good environmental citizens. They're investing in the infrastructure necessary to harness renewable energy because it's the right thing to do for the future. And that’s a fantastic message to send to the rest of the world.    

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2 Dreams, 2 Degrees, and 1 Unconventional Path

Like most moms, Lisa Moore has always bent over backward to put her son Joseph “Joey” Moore in a position to make his dreams come true. But there was one such dream that weighed especially heavy on her.

“I’ll never forget the day Joey came to me and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,’” Lisa said. “He was only 11 years old when he told me, but his mind was made up. I wanted to help make it happen but, as a single mother, I honestly didn't know where the money was going to come from.”

When Joey neared the end of high school, Lisa’s manager at the Walmart store in Mooresville, N.C. where she worked turned her onto the Associate and Dependent Scholarship Programs offered by the Walmart Foundation. Not only could associates like Lisa apply for scholarship assistance, but so could their high school senior dependents.

That was 2007.  Joey applied for and received a scholarship, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  And he’s used his chemistry degree to springboard into a successful career with Henkel Corporation.

But that isn't where the story ends with the Moore family.

“It wasn’t long before Joey started telling me I could do the same thing – that it's never too late to go to college,” said Lisa, 52. “A light came on inside me.”

Already a pastor at Scott’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Statesville, N.C., Lisa recently decided to apply to the Associate Scholarship Program to help finance her enrollment at Hood Theological Seminary School. She, like her son, was awarded a scholarship and is on track to graduate in 2018 with her Masters of Divinity degree. At that point, she plans to focus her efforts full time on the church, pursuing her dream of becoming an elder and possibly even a chaplain.

And she has quite the cheering section behind her.

“There are so many people lifting me up and cheering me on,” Lisa said. That’s why I’ve been with Walmart for 16 years. My job at Walmart has helped put a roof over my head and raise my son, and now it has [helped to support] both of our college educations.

“When I enrolled in seminary, Walmart allowed me to cut back some of my hours to concentrate on school,” she said. “Walmart has always been flexible with my schedule, no matter what was happening in my life and I’m so thankful for that. I’m the biggest cheerleader for this company, not just because of the scholarship program, but because of how it has looked out for me and my family.”

For more than three decades, the Walmart Foundation has made resources available to help U.S. associates and their high school senior dependents fulfill their educational goals through scholarships. More information is available here. 



‘Thank You Very Much, I Don’t Need Your Help Anymore’

The early ’80s were really tough for my family. I had two babies and no income. But after I got a job, things started changing for the better.

Back in 1984, I knew I wanted to work for my local Walmart in Pearsall, Texas, but I was pregnant with my second child at the time. I figured after having my baby, I would apply for a job. The only downfall was everyone kept telling me, “You need a GED to get into Walmart.” I didn’t have one, so I held back.

Later, in 1986, I found out that you don’t need a GED to apply. As a matter of fact, the company will help you get a GED. I took a chance and spoke with the store manager. After filling out an application and taking an assessment, I headed to my mom’s house to let her know I used her phone number as my contact.

I will never forget, it was a Wednesday. As I pulled up at my mom’s house, she came outside with a big grin and said, “Walmart just called. They want you there Saturday at 1 o’clock.”

From then on, my life changed every day – it was getting easier. One of the best feelings in the world was being able to write a letter to the food stamp office saying, “Thank you very much, but I don’t need your help anymore.” I could make it by myself. So when outside groups perform media stunts and attempt to speak for me and my fellow associates who work hard every day to build better lives, I find it incredibly offensive.

My first job was as a cashier, and by putting in my part, I’ve worked my way up to assistant manager. I was promoted to customer service manager after just three months on the job at the most. From there, I became a floater to learn more about the store and then moved on to department manager, first over stationery and later to men’s, boys’, girls’ and infants’ apparel. After five years in that position, I became a support manager – a job I enjoyed for the longest time before finally accepting the offer to be an assistant manager.

There have been a lot of obstacles along the way, and a third child, but thanks to my determination and a good company, I didn’t quit.

One of my sons, Mario, is following in my footsteps. He started as a pharmacy cashier at age 16 and moved up from there. Now, nearly 15 years later, he’s an assistant manager, too.

When people ask me about Walmart, I use my life as an example. I didn’t graduate, but you know what, this company believed in me. And after nearly 30 years, I don’t give back any less than I did when I started.

The sky’s the limit, but I believe it’s up to you to want it.

Editor’s Note: This post is an update to this video, where Noemi first shared her story with us.

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