Greening Power Supply Is Sexy to Business

Despite the difficulty of building new clean power plants to scale, one substantial ray of light is the growing interest in clean power from the corporate sector.

In the past four years, corporate purchases of renewable energy have become something of an arms race. Big, powerful, influential businesses really, really want this stuff. First, Whole Foods made the biggest buy of renewable energy in corporate history. It was soon surpassed by Vail Resorts, which itself was trumped by Wells Fargo, which was beaten back by previous leaders, like Johnson & Johnson and the Air Force (you heard it right—the U.S. Air Force!). Then Pepsi got in the game and dusted everyone by a mile. But by April 2008, Intel was the number-one purchaser of renewable energy credits (RECs). By the time this book goes to print, no doubt another business will have trumped Intel.

In the case of corporate green power purchases, anytime there's a feeding frenzy, you have to ask: what's so tasty? To answer that, we need to understand just what businesses are buying. And a look into the strange and crazy market for renewable energy credits can help us understand what we might need to do to encourage more real production. Additionally, like turning over a rock, a close look at the REC business reveals an unfortunate truth about our nascent efforts to solve climate change—we're charmed by the quick and easy answers, and not so much by the real and effective (but difficult) solutions.

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