The Koch brothers and other fossil industry stakeholders have been gearing up for yet another massive fight over the federal tax credit for wind energy, but as the great Satchel Paige famously remarked, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” That something would be distributed, low cost solar power, which is growing by leaps and bounds. Case in point: just last night, major duct tape purveyor 3M announced an exponential expansion of its ambitious employee discount solar program, having stimulated “robust” interest in just the first few weeks.
The 3M Employee Low Cost Solar Program
The 3M employee low cost solar program was launched on October 22 as part of the Solar Community Initiative organized by the World Wildlife Fund in partnership with Geostellar and other private sector collaborators.
This low cost solar program really gilds the discount lily. First off, the program offers a power purchase agreement through Geostellar, under which the property owner pays no money up front for the solar installation. The cost of the solar panels is paid off incrementally as the property owner pays for the electricity they generate. That’s a savings right there, since the whole point of a power purchase agreement is to obtain solar-generated electricity at a lower rate.
On top of that, the 3M deal involves a bulk rate purchasing advantage, which provides employees a discount on the photovoltaic system ranging from 25 to 35 percent. The result is an average savings of 30 percent off their utility bills for homeowners, compared to individual purchasing at the going rate.
According to the company, response to the offer among the 40,000 3M workers in the U.S. and Canada has been “robust:”
So far, the program has been met with excitement at 3M. In just three weeks, more than 1,000 employees have done initial assessments for solar, and about a dozen have sealed the deal to have solar installed in their homes.
Twelve new solar customers in the bag might sound like small potatoes, but 3M and Geostellar appear confident that the program is off to a healthy start, based on the number of employees that have done the initial assessment.
The solar discount expansion that 3M announced last night basically recruits those aforementioned 40,000 employees to tell all of their friends and family members about the program (the assessment process is the same, you just need the promo code to obtain the discount).
Along with 3M, Cisco Systems and Kimberly-Clark are also in on the goal of 1,000 participants. That represents just one percent of the combined North American workforce of 100,000 employees, but the raw numbers aren’t the only factor. Given the widespread operations of the three companies, another goal of the initiative is to help mainstream distributed solar energy generation across all 50 states and Canada.
The 3M Sustainability Track Record
Considering some of the feedback we got about Ford’s micro wind turbines yesterday, now might be a good time to talk about greenwashing. If you think the 3M low cost solar program belongs in the greenwashing category, please drop us a note in the comment thread.
In the meantime, let’s note that 3M’s interest in clean tech is a bit more expansive than offering an employee discount on financing. The company is a longtime partner with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on EV battery R&D, and earlier this year it announced a new collaboration with the lab on thin film and concentrating solar technology as well as next-generation biofuels. 3M Germany has also been an early supporter of the ambitious Desertec solar initiative.
Earlier this year, in the context of a new NASCAR initiative for EV charging (3M is all about NASCAR), we also noted that 3M was one of the original private sector partners that launched President Obama’s ambitious Workplace Charging Challenge. That’s part of the Administration’s EV Everywhere initiative, which aims at making EVs just as convenient and affordable as gasmobiles.
Americans For Prosperity Vs. The Wind Tax Credit
Before we close, let’s get back to those Koch brothers and the wind tax credit. For those of you new to the topic, the federal production tax credit for wind energy is a relatively new development. It was introduced in 1993 in support of the then-nascent U.S. wind energy industry.
Bipartisan support for the energy sector has been a mainstay of U.S. economic growth for generations (free market, much?), and wind energy was no exception. The wind tax credit was routinely extended on a bipartisan basis for many years.
That changed recently, when technological improvements and new investor interest kicked the wind industry into high gear. According to a new analysis by the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. — not China, as some apparently assume — has been leading the world in total kilowatt hours delivered since 2008.
That’s not even tapping into the U.S. vast offshore wind energy resources. Rope that in and you’re talking about 35 percent of US electricity demand by 2050, so no wonder fossil stakeholders are getting the shakes.
The latest salvo was fired earlier this week by the Koch-funded lobbying group Americans for Prosperity, in the form of a letter to Congress complaining that “taxpayers are tired of being asked to indefinitely fund corporate welfare for the Obama Administration’s favored industries.”
AFP’s press materials further noted that the organization would announce “significant grassroots action on this issue later in the week,” but it looks like 3M and Ford are among those already thumbing their noses at the effort.
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