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Blowing in the Wind: Some Big Manufacturers Tap into Wind Power

Procter & Gamble and General Motors are leading a small but growing group of manufacturers beginning to embrace wind power, which so far has been among the least embraceable forms of alternative production of electricity.

The Cincinnati-based consumer-packaged-goods giant and the Detroit-based automaker each has stepped forward in significant ways this year to commit to using electricity generated by wind power to drive major parts of its manufacturing operations.

Wind power, of course, remains notoriously problematic because of factors including natural variability in blowiness. Broadly, it has been held back by reliability problems similar to how the other most-promoted form of renewable energy, solar power, is retarded by variable sunshine. And both forms tend to be very expensive, made feasible and marketable largely because of government subsidies.

“Both wind and solar energy tend to be very expensive, made feasible and marketable largely because of government subsidies.”

Thus far, not many marquee companies or even mid-market or smaller outfits have ponied up for a significant reliance on wind power. One of the exceptions is Aveda, which earlier this year said it became the first beauty-company manufacturer to purchase enough wind-generated electricity to amount to all of its manufacturing electricity needs.

The paucity of smaller companies doing such things so far is understandable, given that P&G and GM are highly visible Fortune 500 companies that must step up to sustainability expectations in a variety of ways to satisfy political, consumer and employee constituencies, as well as doing so in ways that cut costs, improve electricity supply chains or otherwise benefit their operations.

P&G underscored the highly political nature of its wind-power commitment in October by “planting” thousands of spinning pinwheels on a Capitol Hill lawn to promote its new agreement to purchase enough electricity from a wind farm in Texas to power all of its fabric and home-care plants in North America.

These products comprise a quarter of the company’s net earnings and a unit that is its largest division by sales. That includes such iconic P&G brands as Tide, Gain, Downy, Mr. Clean and Febreze.

In addition, the global titan is teaming up with EDF Renewable Energy to build a wind farm in Texas that will put more than enough power into the nation’s energy grid to run all of the unit’s manufacturing facilities in Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Ohio.

The Cooke County farm, which is supposed to open in late 2016, will produce 370,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, while the P&G plants at issue use about 300,000 megawatt-hours combined each year. Texas and its plains have become the nation’s leading producers of wind power, followed by California and Iowa.

“We know we’re going to be consuming less than we’re putting into the grid,” Shailesh Jejurikar, president of P&G’s North American fabric care division, told The New York Times.

The effort “represents an opportunity for P&G to garner goodwill with environmentally conscious consumers at a time when personal care companies are under more pressure than ever to respond to their concerns,” as the Times put it.

“More and more, we find a very large number—call it two-thirds of consumers—looking to make some kind of contribution in the space, and hopefully not making tradeoffs in value or performance” in the products they purchase as a result, Jejurikar told the Times.

In February, GM said it was planning to procure wind power to run its manufacturing operations for the first time, enabling its plant in Toluca, Mexico, to operate mostly on renewable energy by drawing electricity from a massive wind farm being built in Palo Alto, Mexico.

The automaker said that when the connection is complete, more than 12% of its North American energy consumption would come from renewable sources, up from 9%.

Expect more companies, large public companies especially, to embrace wind power as part of pledges that the Obama administration has been pressing them to make to battle climate change.


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