The New York Times reported today on a creative way that companies such as General Motors, Whole Foods and Staples are using large amounts of reliable solar electricity, and fixing their long term electricity costs with no capital outlay.
The GM warehouse in Cucamonga, CA, for example, now has a photovoltaic array on its roof that can generate 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Although it is expected that the installation will produce half of the building's electricity, it cost GM nothing to build, and is expected to reduce the warehouse's electricity costs by 10%.
The equipment was bought by Developing Energy Efficient Roof Systems (Deers) with the help of private financing and will be owned -- not by GM -- but by Deers. GM signed a long term contract with Deers to buy the electricity substantially below the prevailing regional rate.
Otherwise known as the "solar services model," similar arrangements are cropping up around the country including a project built by Solar Integrated Technologies and financed by GE Energy Financial Services that supplies half the electricity at 23 San Diego schools. One advantage of these projects is that they allow businesses with very narrow margins that cant afford large capital investments on non-core projects, to gain the benefits of distributed, reliable, solar energy at fixed rates. Developers get a reliable return on their investment and get the benefits of tax credits and other rebates offered by states for renewable energy projects. The parties often negotiate who will get the potential credits for reducing carbon emissions.
Whole Foods Market, in a deal with SunEdison with investors including Goldman Sachs, will be using solar cells to provide about 10% of its electricty in four buildings, and plans many more. According to Whole Foods' green mission specialist, "There's just no downside."