Commercial, Industrial, Sourcing Renewables  -  June 17, 2019 - By Brianna Esteves, Ceres

Microsoft leads the way for a clean energy future in Virginia

Multinational companies are driving clean energy investment in Virginia, greening the grid and leading the state’s transition to a low-carbon future. One of the companies pushing the envelope and demonstrating what is possible on clean energy is Microsoft. This past January, Conservatives for Clean Energy honored Microsoft, a Ceres BICEP Network member, with a 2019 Corporate Clean Energy Champion Award. Through a great deal of innovation, determination and creative partnerships, Microsoft is leading the charge on clean energy in the Commonwealth of Virginia—both in their own operations as well as in the realm of clean energy policy advocacy.

Microsoft is one of many Fortune 500 companies that recognizes that reducing emissions and investing in clean energy is simultaneously good for their business and for the planet. In 2012, Microsoft made a bold commitment to achieve carbon neutrality, implementing an internal carbon tax to help the company get there. The company is also firmly committed to powering its operations with 100 percent renewable energy. Across its operations, Microsoft has already taken significant steps to reduce its energy consumption, purchase renewable energy and invest in carbon offset projects. In Virginia specifically, Microsoft is investing in ambitious and innovative clean energy projects that set a high bar for sustainability leadership: 

  • In 2016, Microsoft became one of Virginia’s first investors in large-scale solar, partnering with Dominion Energy and the Commonwealth of Virginia on the 20-megawatt Remington Solar Power Facility. This project is delivering countless benefits and is projected to save the Commonwealth between $500,000 and $1 million in energy costs over its lifetime.
  • Last year, Microsoft announced a new 500-megawatt solar project in Spotsylvania County, of which the company will use 315 megawatts. This project will allow other business—along with universities, hospitals and governments—to purchase portions of the remaining solar energy at lower prices thanks to the economies of scale associated with large solar projects. This project is estimated to generate $600,000 in local property taxes over the first year of its operation.
  • Finally, at its data center in Boydton, Virginia, Microsoft launched an innovative, utility-scale energy storage project to help integrate the deployment of renewable energy, improve demand response, and support the grid as a whole.

Microsoft is not alone in its push for more clean energy. More than 30 major companies in Virginia are committed to powering their operations with 100 percent renewable energy, while 21 of Virginia’s 50 largest employers have set targets to procure more clean energy. Clean energy makes financial sense for companies, and it is also increasingly what their investors, customers, and employees have come to expect. Through their clean energy investments and by engaging directly with lawmakers and regulators on the value of clean energy, Microsoft and their peers are helping to pave the way for a thriving low-carbon future in Virginia. 

This spring, Microsoft was one of nine tech companies that sent a letter urging state regulators and Dominion Energy to more seriously consider their collective interest in renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage. And just last month, Microsoft joined  75 other companies on Capitol Hill calling for a federal price on carbon.

Thankfully, lawmakers are beginning to heed this call. In 2018, Virginia legislators passed a major energy bill that called for up to 5,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy and directed utilities to invest in energy efficiency upgrades. However, Virginia must do more to encourage clean energy in order to keep up with its neighbors and make it easier for companies like Microsoft to meet their sustainability goals.

Beyond lawmakers in Richmond, we are seeing a shift in Virginians’ public opinion around clean energy. A recent poll found that more than 75 percent of Virginia voters want the Commonwealth to put more emphasis on clean energy resources like wind and solar, while 81 percent of voters support accelerating the growth of clean energy in Virginia as a way to drive economic growth and job creation.

These results mirror a similar boost in public opinion around the country. In January, a survey conducted by Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 73 percent of Americans think climate change is happening, while 72 percent of Americans said climate change was important to them—representing a jump of nine percentage points since last March.

The results are clear—businesses around the country are ready to usher in a clean energy future. Virginia has made important strides when it comes to clean energy, but more can be done to seize the benefits that come with supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. Creating a more attractive policy framework in Virginia will bring in more clean energy investments like Microsoft’s—driving economic development, providing tax revenue, and fostering local job-creation.

 

Brianna Esteves is a senior associate, state policy, at Ceres, covering policy work in Virginia.

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