Kaiser Permanente Launches 15 MW Solar Initiative

Kaiser Permanente Launches 15 MW Solar Initiative

Kaiser Permanente will install solar power systems totaling 15 megawatts at California facilities in the first wave of renewable energy projects planned by the largest managed care organization in the U.S.

Starting in April at a receiving warehouse in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Livermore, Kaiser Permanente will roll through a series of installations that are expected to bring solar power systems to 15 medical centers and other facilities in California by the end of summer 2011.

Kaiser Permanente announced its plans this morning. In interviews yesterday, sustainability and green building leaders of the organization provided details about the first stage of KP's broad renewable energy initiative.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said John Kouletsis, director of strategy, planning and design for Kaiser Permanente’s National Facilities Services group.

When they are complete, the 15 installations are expected to provide 10 percent of the power used at the Kaiser Permanente sites that host them and prevent the equivalent of 15,890 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Kaiser Permanente's plunge into solar power follows an initial venture at its nearly 2-year-old Modesto Medical Center, which was designed as a high-performance energy efficient campus and included a 50-kilowatt solar energy system (pictured right) among its environmentally friendly attributes.

As planned, the installations also represent one of the larger solar power projects -- and possibly the largest thus far, Kaiser Permanente believes -- within the healthcare industry.

{related_content}The organization has been a leader of an industry effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by curbing energy consumption; increasing efficiency of facilities, equipment and business operations; finding substitutes for toxic chemicals in products; cutting waste; and providing food choices that are better for patients and employees as well as the environment. Kaiser Permanente also helped develop standards for greening healthcare. (For a closer look at the efforts by Kaiser Permanente and others in healthcare, see Thera N. Kalmijn's article for GreenBiz.com and GreenerBuildings.com.)

"This is about health," said Kaiser Permanente's Environmental Stewardship Officer Kathy Gerwig, who is also vice president for workplace safety. "We're doing this because we see a direct connection between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health."

Kaiser Permanente's sustainability efforts are core to its goals of providing affordable healthcare and enhancing the communities inside and outside their hospital walls, she said.

"Facilities that perform better are better for the community, better for patients and better for employees," said Gerwig.

Kaiser Permanente, which serves 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia, will extend the solar program within its service area and is exploring other forms of renewal energy including geothermal, wind power, cogeneration and advanced technology fuel cells such as the Bloom Box, Kouletsis said. Kaiser Permanente has a goal of meeting 25 percent of its energy needs through on-site generation by 2020.

"If each of our sites had something, that would be terrific -- that's what we're looking at as an aspirational goal," Kouletsis said.

The organization's real estate portfolio spans 73 million square feet with about 1,100 buildings, including 36 hospitals, 450 medical office buildings, plus ambulatory surgery centers, administration buildings, parking structures and others, he said.

The roots of the company's renewable energy initiative lie in the fact that Kaiser Permanente controls 60 to 70 percent of the property it occupies. "Because we do own and operate so many of our buildings, we have great opportunities to reduce costs for our operations and our members," Kouletsis said. "And with such a big portfolio, we thought that it should speak to who we are, show that Kaiser is serious about public health and [show] what we can do to lessen harmful impacts to the environment and improve communities."

By starting the solar program in California, the initial projects have the benefit of being located in Kaiser Permanente's home state -- the organization is based in Oakland -- and can take advantage of state as well as federal rebates. The largest utility that works with the system, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., also is headquartered in California, and that provides a good opportunity for Kaiser Permanente to showcase how a strong relationship with an energy company is an important component for successful renewable energy projects, Kouletsis said.

The solar program is designed to be cost-neutral for Kaiser Permanente. Project partner Recurrent Energy, based in San Francisco, will own and operate the solar power systems and is eligible for a 30 percent tax credit. Kaiser Permanente will buy the solar power through a power purchase agreement with Recurrent Energy at rates that are less than or equal to those for energy on the grid.

"This is a long-term, ongoing commitment for us," Kouletsis said. "We're already actively starting to look for the next 15 to 20 sites."

Kaiser Permanente's renewable energy initiative dovetails a $36 billion, 12-year plan to expand and renovate more than 150 hospitals and medical office buildings by the close of 2015.  More information about its sustainability efforts is available at www.kp.org/green.

Top Image: A view of the planned 1 MW elevated solar installation atop existing parking garages at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center. Rendering courtesy of Recurrent Energy.

Inset: The solar installation at the Modesto Medical Center. Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente.