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Power Source

How a fresh crop of CFOs is propelling the alternative-fuels industry.

It’s Good to Be Green

In February, Whole Foods Market made a bold announcement: henceforth, it would use wind power to supply 100 percent of its electricity. Toward that end, the Austin, Texas-based organic- and natural-food retailer plans to purchase renewable-energy certificates from Renewable Choice Energy, a wind farmer in Boulder, Colorado.

In doing so, Whole Foods joined a growing list of businesses turning to clean fuel. FedEx Kinko’s gets 14 percent of the electricity for its U.S. stores from renewable-energy sources. Likewise, Johnson & Johnson has on-site solar plants in New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. now supplies most of the base load electricity for its Chico, California, microbrewery from a hydrogen fuel cell generator. CFO Bill Bales says the move doesn’t come cheap. “There are a lot of credits and rebates, which make the out-of-pocket costs more reasonable,” he says. “If you had to pay full retail value, it wouldn’t make economic sense.”

There are other benefits to consider. Erin Kelley, head of sustainability efforts at Atlanta-based fabric and carpet maker Interface Corp., says that by using clean fuels, “you get a double ding. Renewables move you off the grid and help build the brand.”

Certainly, few large businesses can match Interface’s commitment to moving off the grid. In 2004, the company completed a renewable-power facility in LaGrange, Georgia, that converts landfill waste to liquefied gas. And while Interface currently satisfies 13 percent of its global electricity needs with renewables, the goal is to hit 100 percent by 2020. CFO Patrick Lynch concedes such greening makes his job more difficult. The approach does have its pluses, however. “It’s a hedge against price volatility,” he says. “These days, the oil markets get all skittish around some offhand comment about what’s going on in Nigeria.” — J.G.

Not Exactly a Breeze

Politics, turbine shortages, and rising steel prices notwithstanding, wind farming is a complicated business. AIM PowerGen Corp.’s recently completed Erie Shore Wind Farm underscores this point. The 99-megawatt power plant, which took more than four years and $186 million to complete, is set on rolling farmland near Lake Erie.

That’s not where AIM’s management thought the plant would be, however. Initially, the company planned to put the turbines in Lake Erie. “But erecting the turbines two kilometers out in the lake was a problem,” says Jaswant Bangaru, director of finance and project management at the Toronto-based wind-farm company. “We had to design the turbine foundation to withstand icing conditions.” In the end, the offshore idea turned out to be cost prohibitive.

Locating a wind facility on land is no less complicated. Today’s generators are more efficient mostly because they’re bigger, typically 25 stories high. They require space. Erie Shore’s 66 turbines, for example, span 16,000 acres, which meant AIM had to negotiate long-term leases with local farmers. What’s more, the massive blades can prove lethal for birds and bats, and can blight a once-scenic view. Indeed, several European wind projects have been canceled or delayed due to — wait for it — environmental risks. Says Jeff Deyette of the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Some wildlife and resource conservation groups are just now discovering this problem.”


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