Corporate social irresponsibility

This month, a coalition of brand name corporations sent Congressional leaders a letter urging extension of the wind production tax credit ('PTC'). It was the second such letter sent this year signed by many of the same companies and with the same message: Failure to extend the PTC will raise consumer electricity prices and harm the bottom lines of companies who purchase renewable energy.

The truth is that wind power -- with the PTC -- is already raising consumer prices and harming corporate bottom lines.

Wholesale contract prices for onshore wind are roughly two- to three times the price of more reliable generation making wind one of the most expensive power sources in the U.S. From 1992 to 2010, Americans were taxed approximately $7.9 billion to pay for the PTC. By 2015, the PTC will cost another $9.1 billion. Residential electricity rates in states with renewable mandates were 27% higher in 2011 than those without mandates, while industrial electricity prices were 23% higher. Wind energy is the primary fuel for meeting state mandates.

But it doesn't end there. In Vermont, government models show that above-market energy costs tied to renewables will increase the cost of production for Vermont businesses. Since the PTC supports poorly sited development in remote areas, ratepayers (and in some cases taxpayers) will also be saddled with costly new transmission lines needed to deliver the power.

Companies do NOT purchase renewable energy directly. They purchase low-cost renewable energy credits (REC), which are nothing more than paper 'attributes' representing renewable energy produced elsewhere. It doesn't matter where the project is located because the companies never consume the energy. Nor do they care if they buy from projects that slaughter thousands of bats and birds annually, destroy hundreds of acres of forest and important wildlife habitat, or harm those living nearby as long as their Senior VPs of Corporate Social Responsibility can claim 'green' in their product materials and annual reports. 

But it matters to others.

Tens-of-thousands of people across the US are publicly objecting to an extension of the PTC because of the high cost and damaging impacts of wind energy development. Corporations who cloak themselves in the warmth of green energy through the purchase of RECs are fooling themselves if they believe consumers do not see through the silliness of their marketing tactics.

Of course, companies are free to play the green game, but it's hard to reconcile any corporate officer authorizing his company signing a letter filled with deceitful wind propaganda.

It turns out, the letters were NOT authored by any of the corporate signers, but by Ceres, an environmental group out of Boston, Massachusetts. Ceres boasts a board of directors that includes Carl Pope of the Sierra Club,  Ashok Gupta of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Rev. William Somplatsky-Jarman, Coordinator for Social Witness Ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Knowing the real authors of the letter helps explain its content, but it doesn't explain the apparent willful ignorance on the part of its signers. Corporations should be wary of aligning with agenda-driven groups who rely on deceit and misrepresentation in order to achieve their mission. If companies can be so reckless with their endorsements, perhaps investors and consumers should think twice about the quality of their products and shop someplace else.


Letter 1 signers: Annie’s Homegrown, Anvil Knitwear, Aspen Skiing Company, Ben & Jerry’s, Campbell Soup, Clif Bar, Levi Strauss & Co., New Belgium Brewing, Nike, Seventh Generation, Staples, Starbucks, Stonyfield Farm, The North Face, Yahoo! Inc.

Letter 2 signers: Akamai Technologies, Annie’s, Inc., Aspen Skiing Company, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Johnson & Johnson, Jones Lang LaSalle, Levi Strauss & Co, New Belgium Brewing, The North Face, Pitney Bowes, Portland Trail Blazers, Seventh Generation, Sprint, Starbucks, Stonyfield Farm, Symantec, Timberland, Yahoo!

SEP 28 2012
back to top