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Intuit hatches plan to help customers and employees buy clean power

Here's an innovative new option for smaller businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

Financial software powerhouse Intuit long has been known as a champion of small businesses. After all, they are its lifeblood. At last count, the company had more than 2.8 million subscribers for its QuickBooks online service, which self-employed enterprises and small ventures use to manage their books.  

Even though a growing number of those organizations is interested in sourcing renewable energy, there is still no easy way for them to do so in many parts of the United States.

That challenge shaped the strategy behind Intuit’s latest renewable energy program, announced Wednesday to coincide with its celebration of Earth Day later this week.

The deal extends the software company’s relationship with Just Energy, one of Intuit’s partner in the contracts that have helped Intuit procure the renewable power it uses to offset its facilities in Plano, Texas, and its Mountain View, California, headquarters site.

The new Purely Green Program — which Intuit characterizes as the first of its kind — will enable the company’s customers, employees and business partners in Texas to buy wind-generated electricity at or below the price it would cost to buy "traditional" dirty power.

Even if Intuit reaches just a fraction of its customers, the impact on reducing carbon emissions will be substantial.
They’ll get direct access to the power from the Lone Star Wind Farm near Abilene, which is owned by EDP Renewables. The first tranche will be for 5 megawatts of power; Intuit’s plan is to add more capacity in future offerings, as needed. Customers will receive credit for the renewable energy certificates, which will help small businesses that have made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

"The goal is to create a market signal to say there is a demand for wind farms," said Sean Kinghorn, senior sustainability program manager for Intuit. If the program is successful in Texas, he hopes to introduce the concept to other states and customers in the near future.

An easy sell internally

Kinghorn got the idea about a year ago, after negotiating the relatively modest contracts that have helped Intuit offset its own electricity consumption with renewables. The load for its Plano operation is less than 1 megawatt, while Mountain View uses 2 MW. The size of the power purchase agreements touted by many other technology companies is often far larger, and many smaller businesses have found it more difficult to meet their clean power needs directly.

That pain point got Kinghorn thinking: Why not use Intuit’s past experiences to make it simpler?

He approached CeCe Morken, an Intuit executive vice president and general manager of strategic relationships, in fall 2017 at an internal president’s award event. (Both managers were honored there.) Morken said it didn’t take much for Kinghorn to sell her on the idea, nor did it take much time to rally the team in Texas to support the decision to proceed. It took about seven months to get the program in place, she said.

"It wasn’t that hard, it really wasn’t," Morken told me. "It simply needed to be declared as a priority."

Intuit isn’t putting any money into the program directly, but the contract leverages its buying power and it will be responsible for marketing the offer to local customers, business partners and employees. About 80 percent of consumers in Texas are free to choose their electricity provider, and that’s who will be targeted. "They will get the benefit of our cost structure," Morken said.

Kinghorn said the hope is to get about 20,000 customers to participate, which is about 2 percent of Intuit’s base in the state. The Plano office specializes in Intuit’s ProConnect product, used by professional tax planners and accountants.

Even though a growing number of [small businesses] is interested in sourcing renewable energy, there is still no easy way for them to do so in many parts of the United States.
And the approximately 550 employees who work there are also expected to line up. "I will be taking advantage of this offer," said Stephanie Friswell, the ProConnect communications manager. "I’m really proud that I get to be part of this program. It’s a huge part of the story. It’s bigger than just saving money."

Signups for the initiative will be managed by Just Energy. The deal was structured by wholesale provider Renewable Power Direct (RPD), Intuit’s partner on the deals that have helped Intuit reach its 100 percent renewable energy commitment in Plano and Mountain View.    

"This program is a game changer, not just for Texas electricity customers," RPD CEO Eric Alam said in the press release introducing the effort. "Thanks to Intuit’s leadership, we expect other Fortune 500 companies that buy wind and solar energy to begin exploring how best to share and leverage their green energy choices for customers and employees. This could significantly boost future demand for renewable energy and greatly expand the climate benefits of corporate green power programs."

Even if Intuit reaches just a fraction of its customers, the impact on reducing carbon emissions will be substantial — far more than if the company just does things on its own — and will send a powerful market signal that utilities and developers need to come up with more models that allow small companies to buy clean power, Kinghorn said. 

This story was updated April 19 to correct the name of the program, which changed after the briefing for this article.

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