If you want to watch the new clean energy economy shake off the weight of the old polluting one, North Carolina provided a good glimpse on Friday of how that transition is unfolding in real time.
Three companies that have embraced clean energy in their operations – Apple, Facebook and Google – teamed up with others to compel their electric utility in North Carolina, Duke Energy, one of the nation’s biggest emitters of global warming pollution, to announce a breakthrough adoption of renewable energy on Friday.
Duke Energy is the country’s biggest power company, one perfectly emblematic of the type of economy that has landed us in our current climate change predicament. It operates hulking coal, gas and nuclear power plants, and it has aggressively blocked renewable energy from taking root in its service territory to protect its century-old way of doing business.
But Duke can only insulate itself from progress for so long. Apple, Facebook and Google buy large amounts of electricity from Duke in North Carolina, and all of them have said that they want that electricity to come from clean sources.
These companies have committed to powering their data centers with 100 percent clean electricity, and they are using their buying power to meet that commitment by pushing utilities toward clean energy around the country. Apple is working with its utility in Nevada so that it can power its data center there with a new, innovative solar panel array. Facebook is building its most recent data center in Iowa, where it’s pushed its utility to deliver more wind energy, and Google has worked out wind deals with its utility in Oklahoma.
Now, these three companies joined other influential Duke customers in North Carolina, like the University of North Carolina system, in pushing Duke to announce a “Green Source Rider” today, a new offering that would allow the biggest customers in the state to buy specifically renewable energy, rather than be forced to accept Duke’s standard dirty mix.
Unfortunately, Duke’s new program won’t be available for families or small businesses in North Carolina, thousands of whom have asked for the same clean energy options as Google, Apple and Facebook, but whom Duke is still ignoring. Just two weeks ago, Duke told North Carolina regulators that even in 15 years, it plans that less than 3 % of the electricity it sells in the state will be renewably powered.
But from a utility that has sold only a one-size-fits-all dirty energy offering for decades, this new program is an important shift, one that shows how innovative companies can disrupt the status quo and lead the way to a new economy powered by renewable energy.