Commercial, Finance, Solar, Sourcing Renewables, Wind  -  April 21, 2017

Starbucks nears commercial operation of 1st solar farm

Aerial photo of Starbucks' solar farm, NC-47, in North Carolina provided by Starbucks Corp. 

Starbucks Corp. is making a strategic shift in its corporate renewable energy strategy. 

As evidenced by a string of recent accomplishments, the Seattle-based coffee company has illustrated a move away from relying solely on energy offset purchases in favor of more direct, tangible investments in renewable energy. In an April 20 announcement, Starbucks pointed to two key elements of this strategy: its first direct investment in a solar farm and its participation in a newly created green tariff program, through which it will expand its involvement with wind. 

In mid-May, the company expects its 150,000-panel solar farm to become operational in North Carolina and deliver the clean energy equivalent to the electricity powering 600 Starbucks stores in North Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. The investment is somewhat of a pilot for Starbucks; the company says it will test and learn, with the goal of taking the lessons and using them to pursue more direct renewable energy investments. 

"The corporate sector is driving the conversation at the moment, which is a very interesting dynamic," Patrick Leonard, who sources renewable energy for Starbucks stores in the U.S. and Canada, said. "We're happy to partner with utilities to do this but we now also have options to engage with projects directly."

Leonard said the ability to source their clean energy needs in a positive way is a win-win for companies like Starbucks.

"It's also a way we can demonstrate our values," he said. 

Starbucks says it has been engaging with renewable energy since 2005, steadily increasing its investments in renewable energy certificates to achieve a goal of obtaining 100% of the electricity powering global company-operated stores from renewable sources. Starbucks hit that target in 2015, and was the number one purchaser of renewable electricity in its sector on the U.S. EPA's Green Power Partnership Retail Top 30 in 2016.

Separately, in Washington state, the company is expanding its renewable efforts with wind power through a long-term contract with its local utility there, Puget Sound Energy. PSE's Green Direct initiative will directly provide energy to power 116 Starbucks stores and the company's roasting facility in Kent, Wash. 

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