Brace yourself for a blockbuster quarter in corporate renewables procurement

This article is drawn from the Energy Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Thursdays.

Relatively speaking, the third quarter was slow-ish when it came to disclosures about big corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) for solar and wind energy. "Just" 770 megawatts of contracts were announced, compared with about twice that from April 1 to June 30.

But the fourth quarter is winding up to be a blockbuster: there already have been more deals declared in October than for the three previous months combined. 

That includes the first virtual PPA for Minneapolis-based food and agriculture giant Cargill, in collaboration with Geronimo Energy, just this week. The relationship calls for Cargill to buy 50 MWs of energy from the 200-MW Crocker Wind Farm under construction in Clark County, South Dakota. The tenure of the contract is 12 years.

Walmart is the off-taker for the rest of the farm’s capacity: another great example of how companies are working together both to achieve their own goals and to otherwise help get projects off the ground.

But just because this is Cargill’s first vPPA doesn’t mean it has been sitting on the sidelines when it comes to renewables. Wind-generated power is just one of the 15 renewables sources that Cargill is using at more than 100 locations around the world. And like many other organizations with an expansive manufacturing footprint, many of those investments are very localized — and not necessarily focused just on decarbonizing electricity.

One of its most successful projects of this nature — in Uberlandia in Brazil — is a biomass-powered steam boiler and turbine for a plant that produces industrial and pharmaceutical starches, corn products and animal feed proteins. (The company uses eucalyptus that it grows on a nearby farm as its regenerative source of biomass.)

The technology has supported a 70 percent increase in production, while helping the operation avoid using about 5 million gallons of fuel oil annually, according to a write-up published last week by the Renewable Thermal Collaborative (a 1-year-old initiative of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance). Plus, over the past five years, the biomass boiler has helped save more than $20 million in electricity costs, because it also generates power for the site.

You can read more about the Cargill installation (including how it was funded) in this white paper. Five other miniature case studies are focused on:

  • Philadelphia’s biogas-powered water pollution control plant, which covers about 85 of the site’s power needs and saves roughly $2.6 million annually on electricity.
  • L’Oreal’s renewable natural gas project in Ashland, Kentucky, which will enable the cosmetics company to meet its carbon neutrality commitment (and provide a new revenue source).
  • A Mars biogas project in Poland that incorporates biogas at a wastewater treatment plant, reducing fossil fuels consumption by 34 percent.
  • A geothermal well at a Procter & Gamble plant in Tianjin, China, which provides heat to the buildings and process operations. The investment has decreased the facility’s reliance on natural gas by about 10 percent.
  • A waste-to-steam operation at a General Motors assembly plant in Detroit, which replaced coal-fired equipment. (This one is especially intriguing for the insights it provides on obstacles to getting projects like this off the ground.)

As for the big PPAs that are helping put more renewable energy on the grid across the United States? Keep your eyes peeled later this week when GreenBiz publishes the third-quarter edition of its Clean Energy Deal Tracker

And the pile of contracts we'll include in the fourth-quarter update is growing quickly. Aside from Cargill, we've seen announcements from data storage company Iron Mountain (a 15-year PPA for 145 MW of wind energy in Kansas), Walmart (three PPAs for wind farms in Illinois and Indiana AND for more solar power at 19 stores and two distribution centers in Illinois), Microsoft (a 90-MW contract for a wind facility in Pennsylvania) and Royal Caribbean (covering a 200-MW wind farm managed by a subsidiary of Southern Co.).