Credit: bp

Using Renewable Energy For All The Wrong Reasons

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The word is out. Renewable energy is in and now everyone wants to get in on the game. This week, there have been news reports about companies we don’t normally associate with climate action queuing up to add solar power to their operations.

The more cynical members of the CleanTechnica staff (which is pretty much all of us), see this as a form of greenwashing. “Hey, hey. Look over here! We’re working hard to reduce our emissions by using more renewable energy while we continue to spew megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” The reaction around the koi pond here at our lavish global headquarters has been equivalent to the sound of one hand clapping.

Peacock Solar Brings Renewable Energy To Corpus Christi

In a press release dated September 26, 2023, BP proudly announced it has begun construction of a 187 MW solar installation. That’s good. When completed in the summer of 2024, the renewable energy from the new Peacock Solar project will help power a Gulf Coast Growth Ventures petrochemical complex on the Gulf Coast of Texas. That’s not so good. The project is expected to create around 300 jobs during construction and provide more than $25 million in tax revenue over the first 25 years of the its life.

At full capacity, renewable energy from Peacock solar could avoid more than 256,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. It is expected to create up to 300 jobs during construction and provide more than $25 million in tax revenue over the first 25 years of the project’s life. The press release says, “the new solar farm located 10 miles north of Corpus Christi in San Patricio County, Texas, will help support the global transition to lower carbon energy.”

Peacock will sell all of the electricity it generates under a long term power purchase agreement to Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, a joint venture between ExxonMobil and SABIC, which produces materials used to manufacture clothes, food containers, packaging, agricultural film, and construction materials.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that not one electron from Peacock will benefit the local community or keep air conditioners running as the outside temperatures soar. And 256,000 metric tons is a pisshole in the snow compared to the emissions GCGV will be responsible for. So, should renewable energy advocates be happy about this news or not?

What is GCGV?

For more on that topic, let’s turn to a report in the Corpus Christi Caller Times, which says GCGV is a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Saudi Arabia’s Basic Industries Corporation, known as SABIC.  On its website, SABIC says, “Ranked among the world’s largest petrochemicals manufacturers, SABIC is a public company based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with 70% of the company’s shares owned by Saudi Aramco, with the remaining 30% publicly traded on the Saudi stock exchange.” The company operates in about 50 countries and has a global workforce of more than 31,000 employees.

Hmmm…ExxonMobil and Saudi Arabia? Not names that spring to mind when pursuing a reduction in carbon emissions. This smacks of Exxon’s latest attempt to wrap itself on a green mantle, now that it has shut down its “fuel from algae” research program. And Saudi Arabia, of course, is home to all but one of the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center in 2021. It also deals with dissent by murdering its critics and chopping them up into little pieces with a bone saw. What wonderful neighbors for the folks who live in and around Corpus Christi.

“We want to be good stewards of our environment,” said Andrew Mitton, technical manager at GCGV, in a statement this week. “Once online, the solar generated electricity will be used to partially power our plant and help reduce emissions in support of a net zero future.” Don’t hold your breath, people. (Although if you live in the area, you might want to.) For Exxon Mobil and SABIC, net zero is something they envision happening sometime in the next century, after every molecule of oil and methane gas has been extracted and burned.

BP (which brought us the Deepwater Horizon disaster) wanted to get in on the good news. Dave Lawler, chairman of bp America, said in a statement this week, “Securing this agreement and kicking off construction of Peacock helps support the transition to lower carbon energy, while benefiting local communities and the economy. It’s another way bp is accelerating growth of our US solar generation capacity, investing in America, and advancing our transformation to an integrated energy company.”

“GCGV conservatively calculates this will reduce our emissions about 130 kTA, the equivalent of taking about 29,000 cars off the road for a year,” the manufacturing facility’s managers said in their news release. “That’s an impact of about 5% of the site’s total greenhouse gas emissions.” Woo-hoo! Break out the champagne! Don’t let the prospect of an overheating planet scare you. BP, ExxonMobil, and Saudi Arabia have our backs.

Details About Peacock Solar

PCL Construction, the main engineering, procurement, and construction contractor for the project, will install ultra-low carbon solar panels and trackers from US-based manufacturers First Solar and GameChange Solar, respectively. Peacock will also be home to a range of agricultural and biodiversity activities, including:

  • planting vegetation under and around the solar panels, including native plant species beneficial to pollinators and other wildlife
  • aiming to improve habitat value, species composition, soil health and overall ecosystem functions at the solar farm
  • sheep grazing at the site to benefit the local rural economy and keep the farmland in production – such practices are known as agrivoltaics.

BP says solar will play an important role in its renewable energy and power transition growth engine. Peacock is part of its aim to invest in and build renewable energy capacity of 50 GW worldwide by 2030. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Texas ranks second in the nation for solar power and is poised to add 40 GW over the next five years. Renewable energy projects like Peacock help diversify the state’s energy generation mix, improving the grid’s energy security and reliability, bp says.

The Takeaway

Using renewables to power a joint venture involving ExxonMobil and SABIC just feels wrong on so many levels. It’s like using renewable energy to power fracking operations in the Permian basin, which seems like a perversion rather than progress toward a sustainable planet.

The biggest concern we have here at CleanTechnica is that corporations will hide behind a few MW of renewable electricity to drag people’s attention away from the fact that they are blasting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere 24 hours a day.

Greenwashing is a real problem today, with companies talking out of both sides of their mouths so they can continue doing business as usual. It’s a game that needs to be exposed for what it is — lying. Don’t fall for their lies. We haven’t got time to waste on stupid mind games from greedy corporations.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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