By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wal-Mart has signed a contract to help power hundreds of its stores using wind energy, one of the largest investments in the field by a U.S. retailer.
The four-year agreement with Duke Energy is expected to provide up to 226 million kilowatt-hours of power each year to about 360 stores and distribution centers in Texas, about 15 percent of the total electricity used. The company said the purchase will result in the reduction of about 139,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of what 25,000 cars would emit.
The move is the latest step in the company's three-year-old effort to transform itself into a more sustainable business. Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. has vowed that the retailer will eventually be completely supplied by renewable energy. The deal with Duke is expected to be announced today.
"That's just a huge, huge goal for us to work toward," said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for Wal-Mart. "We're actually very pleased with our results and excited about the things that we're learning."
Nearly two years ago, Wal-Mart began talks with wind power company Tierra Energy, which was based in Austin, to supply its stores. When Tierra was bought by North Carolina-based Duke last year, the company brought Wal-Mart with them.
"They have a very compelling case for their sustainability and environmental effort," said David Marks, senior vice president for wind energy at Duke. "They were very focused on trying to make as much of their Texas electricity load be renewable as they can."
Wal-Mart declined to disclose the amount of the contract, but Saylors-Laster said the company would not pay more for renewable energy than it does for traditional energy sources.
"We absolutely are focused on doing things that are good for the planet," she said, "but it absolutely has to be good for profit as well."
Andrew Aulisi, director of the markets and enterprise program at the think tank World Resources Institute, said the contract also allows Wal-Mart to buy energy at a fixed rate to hedge against spikes. Aulisi, whose group is one of several advocacy groups that have worked with Wal-Mart in recent years, said that the size of the company's purchase was significant.
The wind power for Wal-Mart's stores will be supplied by a wind farm under construction in Notrees, Tex., Marks said. The farm is expected to begin producing energy in the spring.
Wal-Mart said the purchase would make it 15th on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of national companies using green power. Wal-Mart currently does not rank on that list or a list of the top 20 retailers.
Heading the retail rankings is Whole Foods Markets with 527 million kilowatt-hours, which represents its entire energy use. The EPA rankings include on-site generation, direct purchases of renewable power and renewable energy credits.