The Farm That Grows Clean Energy
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.