As the cost of wind energy has dropped by more than half in just five years, there has been a steady increase in U.S. businesses, governmental agencies and universities making direct investments in wind power to lock in low prices and reduce their carbon footprints, according to data from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
Corporations are attracted by wind's unique ability to hedge against rising prices for other fuels, just as utilities buy fixed-price wind energy to protect their consumers against volatility in the price of other fuels.
‘Over 23 percent of the wind power contracts signed in 2014 were with corporate buyers and other non-utility groups,’ says Emily Williams, deputy director, industry data and analysis for AWEA. "This trend is a meaningful source of new demand for wind power. The private and public sectors are saying, 'We value wind power, and we want more of it.'’
In the past year, major corporations, such as Amazon, Dow Chemical and Yahoo!, entered into their first power purchase agreements (PPAs) for wind-generated electricity, while tech companies Google and Microsoft continue to sign new contracts.
Outside of the corporate sector, the U.S. General Services Administration and Cornell University joined a growing list of agencies and universities purchasing wind power that already includes Oklahoma State University, the Ohio State University and the U.S. Air Force. In total, over 1,770 MW of wind PPAs have been signed by commercial and industrial, governmental and educational institutions.
Corporate investment in renewable energy is occurring both on- and off-site and through both direct ownership and long-term purchase agreements. Some of the highlights of 2014 are as follows:
IKEA purchased the 98 MW Hoopeston Wind project in Illinois wind and a 165 MW Texas wind farm, located in Cameron County, Texas.
Facebook and Google signed contracts directly with the utility MidAmerican Energy for up to 547 MW of Iowa wind-sourced energy.
Mars Inc. signed a long-term agreement for the renewable energy certificates from a 200 MW Texas wind project that is currently under construction.
Anheuser-Busch has a California brewery powered by two on-site turbines.
For almost all other energy sources, increasing fuel costs can cause major and often sudden increases in electricity costs. Purchasing wind energy helps to diversify the energy portfolio and hedge against that risk, much like a fixed-rate mortgage protects homeowners from interest rate fluctuations versus an adjustable-rate mortgage.
Purchasing clean, renewable wind power also helps many companies and non-utility purchasers achieve internal environmental and clean power targets. U.S. companies, universities and others have increasingly identified reducing their overall contribution to carbon pollution as a high priority, and one that is popular with their customers.