Virtual Renewable Energy Sourcing Forum Wrap-Up - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Distributed Generation, Industrial, Solar, Sourcing Renewables, Wind  -  August 3, 2020

Virtual Renewable Energy Sourcing Forum Wrap-Up

Smart Energy Decisions presented the Virtual Renewable Energy Sourcing Forum on July 27-31, creating an opportunity for corporate energy buyers to engage in cutting-edge general sessions and meet with suppliers and peers without the need to travel.

The event is SED’s fifth edition of the RE Sourcing Forum – and its first virtual event. John Failla, Founder and Editorial Director of Smart Energy Decisions welcomed attendees, noting that “a lot has changed over the past four months but not the goals of the event: to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sourcing.”

Following are brief highlights from the Virtual Renewable Energy Sourcing Forum. More extensive coverage will follow in our RE Sourcing Forum Insights report, available in September.

"Goldman Sachs' Renewable Energy Journey"
The general sessions opened with a conversation between Failla and Cindy Quan, Global Chief of Staff and Head of ESG, Corporate and Workplace Solutions at Goldman Sachs (left), on how renewable energy fits into the company's overall ESG strategy.  “If we’re able to essentially continue to conduct our business, ensure profitability to our stakeholders, but do so in the future in a way that makes commercial sense and is also good for the environment, ultimately it’s a win-win situation," explained Quan. "On the operational side, we are able to continue to prove that we can walk the walk in this space by executing on new solutions for the firm and our marketing teams can continue to talk the talk in this space to ensure that we are providing essentially one cohesive Goldman Sachs front to the market.”

"The Growing Role of Municipal Utilities"
Calling Texas “the renewable hotbed of the world,” moderator Peter Kelly-Detwiler, SED's Director of Educational Programs, asked Jacqueline Sargent, General Manager at Austin Energy (right) how she figures out her next moves. “Austin Energy has been very effective at looking not only at the diversity of types of resources that we’re bringing on - including solar and wind and biomass – but also looking at locational diversity.” Sargent explained that ERCOT’s system has “allowed us to enter into agreements for renewable energy in various locations across the state. This allows us to take an opportunity when affordable projects put themselves forward and it’s helped us to diversify our mix.”

A challenge for JohnTzimorangas, President and CEO, Energy New England (left) is that “ISO New England has one set of criteria and the six New England states (where ENE operates) are going off in a fully different direction with their RFPs. If we don’t get together, we’re going to have a problem because 60% of the energy is going to come from these renewable projects that are state RFP-driven and 40% will be left in the market. That’s not a market.” He noted, Jackie and I can talk energy all day long, but if we can’t get the politicians to get together, it’s going to be hard to move forward.”

“Innovative Approaches to Achieving Renewable Energy and Climate Goals”
Rebecca Sternberg, Vice President, Energy and Climate Practice at 3Degrees (right), welcomed Valerie Cardwell, Executive Director, Office of Sustainability at Comcast NBCUniversal and Beth Wytiaz, SVP, Global Environmental/Operations, Bank of America to talk about their overall sustainability goals. At Comcast, Cardwell supports the implementation of strategic initiatives as the company reaches for its goals of 100% renewable energy, as well as zero-carbon by 2030. “We have a term we call crawl, walk, run,” Cardwell (left) explained.I like to say that we are in the crawling-to-walking stage. Part of the challenge is the wide range of businesses under the Comcast umbrella. “Many people are familiar with Comcast Cable Division but we also have theme parks and TV studios, so our footprint and our facilities vary in size and scope and energy usage. The tactics we use around renewable energy differ, not only by business unit but also by location. Our main focus in getting to 100% renewable energy is to determine the right fit for that business and that location.

Discussing Bank of America’s recent innovative PPA, Wytiaz (right) explained that options were limited in their headquarters state, North Carolina, which is regulated. “It’s important to us to add new renewables in that particular state so we worked with 3 Degrees to identify four new solar projects, working around existing land use. We want these projects to be in low-to-moderate income communities, to have some kind of economic development benefit, and to have pollinator habitats. These are some of the things we can do that add benefit to these particular projects and the communities in which they’re going to operate. That’s been a big focus for us and will continue to be. "

“Opportunities and Risks in Long Term PPAs”
Tiffany Menhorn, Wholesale and Renewable Energy Procurement, Senior Business Development Manager at Enel X (left) described Portland General Electric’s Green Energy Future Impact Tariff as “something that Portland General was able to do for large-scale C&I customers to help them source 100% of their energy from new wind and solar facilities dedicated from a PPA through PGE.” The tariff featured 160 MW and was fully subscribed within three minutes of release. Explaining the success of the program, Brian Faist, Structuring and Origination at PGE (right) said,We heard from our customers, including some of our municipalities in the Portland area, that wanted to go further faster than what our State renewable portfolio standards require for renewable and carbon-free resources. We didn’t have a way to offer that outside of RECs. They wanted a resource they could point to, a resource because additionality is very important to a lot of C&I customers. They also wanted to be able to say that the electrons from that facility are serving their load.”

 "Multiple Approaches to the Climate Challenge"
James Goudreau, Head of Climate at Novartis (left) discussed one of the first renewables deals closed by his company, to off-take 100 MW of electricity from a wind farm in east Texas. “When it came online in June of 2019, it rendered us carbon neutral in the U.S. market for part of our operations, which was really exciting. It’s important to have a foundation of efficiency, and to do things like onsite renewables as well, where you get resilience and business cost-benefit, but big deals like this really start to move the needle towards decarbonization not only of our business but of extended supply chains.”

"When it Comes to Renewables, There are Few City Limits in Austin"
Discussing what her City Council is looking for when approving renewables deals, Ericka Bierschbach, VP, Energy Market Operations & Resource Planning at Austin Energy (right) said, “Additionality is a big deal. They want green field-type projects. They want physical assets that they can point to. They’re not interested in meeting our goals with RECs. Another very important aspect is equity and that has to do with some of the local work that we do around Austin. Our team has built up a great utility-scale portfolio for our customers, but now we are also digging into more community solar and distributed generation around our local footprint."

Teresa Kanter, Business Development Manager at Duke Energy Renewables (left) noted, “We’re seeing a lot of C&I customers coming in at a rapid pace and increasing the exposure.” She explained, “Everyone’s gotten used to being able to bid these projects and they’ve been able to lower the price and make it very competitive, so the market is a little saturated. But it has also allowed these C&I customers who want VPPAs to have projects wherever they want – they are not as particular as to where it is, just as long as they have a cheap settlement. "

 "Inspiring Diversity in Energy"
Noting a recent study by The Wall Street Journal that ranked the energy industry 10th out of 11 industries measured for their efforts in diversity, SED's John Failla (right) asked what it will take to achieve a more appropriate representation of people of color in the energy industry? “It’s an all-in strategy and I think it is a necessity because the current national conversation around systemic racism is hitting our country and I think hitting this industry very hard,” responded Rose McKinney-James, Managing Principal of McKinney-James & Associates and Energy Works LLC (left), who currently serves as a lobbyist at the state legislature to advance policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency.  “We’ve been very busy growing as an industry, overcoming our own challenges, fighting policy battles, dealing with the economic implications, but now I think it’s important for us to turn our attention to building strong organizations that represent all of our stakeholders.” She added, “This will require expanding your network, taking an uncomfortable step to have an uncomfortable conversation, and being very intentional in your outcomes.” 

"Integrating an Offsite Renewable Purchase into Your Energy Risk Strategy"
Describing the very broad range of risk that some buyers are willing to accept versus others, Greg Kosier, Manager, Commodities Management Group for Constellation (right) called it “a huge swath.  A manufacturer, for example, may not want to buy a great deal of energy in advance,  because they want their prices to be close to what the market price is since energy factors as such a large portion of their cost stream." On the other side, he continued, “you have retail or the hotel industry. They may need to know their costs going forward for five years, and they may want to actually have a large portion of that budget known in advance so they’ll skew towards the more conservative side. In any event, to help an energy buyer build out their budget you’re going to have to have some sense of what these goals are in advance."

"Greening Cities: Phoenix Leads the Way"
Describing why he has chosen a profession in the energy industry, Nick Brown, City Energy Manager for Phoenix (left) said, “We’re in a profession where we can really do well by doing good, it seems to me. Solar professionals who are successful could be doing a lot of things – there are thousands of services and products that we could be pushing through the marketplace. What we’re doing, however, pushes good things through the marketplace and also leaves a somewhat more livable planet for our progeny. So, as Greta Thunberg has said, we really should act as though we love our children above all else.”

10 Questions with GM’s Rob Threlkeld
The closing session was a rapid-fire Q&A session between Rob Threlkeld, Global Manager for Sustainable Energy Supply and Reliability at General Motors  (right) and SED’s Peter Kelly-Detwiler (left).  When asked about the biggest surprise to date in his sustainability career, Threlkeld replied, “It’s how fast technology is driving down costs. I remember when we built our first solar array in 2005, which at that point in time was a 1 MW rooftop array. The cost per watt to install that was over $9. Fast-forward to 2020, you’re sub a dollar a watt in some cases. This also shows the acceleration of technology adoption. Ten years ago it seemed like it was going to be a very complicated process to grow the number of megawatts at even just a few of our facilities. Our sustainability goal was to source or promote the use of 125 MW of renewables and here we are today with a goal to be 100% renewable and we’re well on our way. I think that’s been the biggest surprises we’ve seen in the industry is how fast technology is driving down costs. 

The Virtual Renewable Energy Sourcing Forum Insights report, featuring more in-depth information on each session, will be available in September. 

Smart Energy Decisions' Virtual Distributed Energy Forum is set for September 21-25, 2020.  The winter edition of the Renewable Energy Sourcing Forum will take place December 7-9, 2020. Click here for more information on all Smart Energy Decisions events.

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