Is it time to say goodbye to the Green Power Partnership?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Green Power Partnership (GPP) is one of many programs the Trump administration aims to eliminate through dramatic proposed cuts to the agency’s budget. While the threat of cancellation has inspired coordinated efforts to defend some EPA programs, particularly the Energy Star initiative focused on energy efficiency, the GPP’s potential demise doesn't appear to have inspired the same level of resistance from its participants, at least so far.

Will corporate champions fight to preserve the GPP or might they be ready to concentrate their political influence elsewhere? 

Launched in 2001, the GPP is a voluntary program that encourages companies and organizations to use clean, renewable energy to reduce the environmental impacts associated with electricity generated by fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas or coal. In return for technical assistance and recognition of their efforts in rankings, program partners commit to use "green power" for all or a portion of their annual electricity consumption.  

Part of the GPP’s core purpose is to educate stakeholders about voluntary procurement pathways within U.S. renewable energy markets. Such frameworks and purchasing models were far less developed when the GPP was launched than they are today. Indeed, the renewable energy market has exploded in recent years from just 100 megawatts of corporate power purchase agreements in 2012 to 3.2 gigawatts in 2015. 

At the same time, renewable energy costs have plummeted, altering the economics of energy procurement dramatically since 2001. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, while solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines essentially were peripheral to the U.S. energy system a dozen years ago, these sources of power are growing more quickly than any other. Under certain conditions, renewable energy sources have reached cost parity with fossil fuels, and wind and solar power are even cheaper in some cases and places. Increasingly, companies are turning to renewable energy contracts because it makes fiscal sense.

Many companies behind those purchases — including Walmart, Facebook and General Motors — have rallied behind the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, an organization created officially in May 2016 by several environmental NGOs including the Rocky Mountain Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, the World Resources Institute and BSR. (Many of these companies are also Green Power Partners.) 

Steve McDougal, CEO of clean energy service provider 3Degrees, published an opinion piece in May that urged the GPP’s preservation. Regarding GPP partners, McDougal wrote, "We can expect these companies to continue to lead on climate, but they need the help of federal agencies to provide data and technical support, sound science and public policy." 

Adam Capage, vice president of corporate and government affairs for 3Degrees, added the GPP has been a highly successful program that is relatively inexpensive to run. He said some of 3Degrees’ clients are Green Power Partners and have lamented the possibility of the program’s elimination, noting the ongoing value of recognition from the EPA.

While Capage does not believe existing GPP participants would reverse their support of clean energy in the event of its disappearance, he questions whether the program’s elimination might dilute new companies’ interest in adding renewable power to their portfolios.

Berit Kling, product manager for the Blue Sky renewable energy program at utility Pacificorp, said the GPP helps validate the larger purchases that Pacificorp’s customers make through the company’s Pacific Power division. The GPP can be valuable as a guideline, Kling said, and EPA recognition continues to motivate companies to pursue renewable energy sourcing strategies. She also observed, however, that many companies already go beyond the GPP’s provisions.

It’s possible the GPP is a program that has been so successful in convincing companies to invest in green power that its original mission is essentially obsolete. Even if it is eliminated, the case for procuring renewables continues to strengthen.

A representative for the GPP did not respond to a request for comments about the program’s future.