Behind Microsoft’s bold plan to build social equity into clean energy buying

August 6, 2020 by  
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Behind Microsoft’s bold plan to build social equity into clean energy buying Heather Clancy Thu, 08/06/2020 – 00:45 There were plenty of juicy news tidbits in Microsoft’s recent progress report about its goal to become carbon negative over the next decade. But its new goal to link at least 500 megawatts of forthcoming solar energy contracts to environmental justice considerations is bold for many reasons.  For context, the total pledge amounts to about a quarter of the capacity that Microsoft already has signed (1.9 gigawatts) in solar and wind contracts. This is the largest commitment it has made to a single portfolio investment, so it isn’t some side project. Nor is this a reaction to the nationwide protests triggered by the death of George Floyd this spring — the active planning has been under way since December.  “We spend a lot of time talking about the energy transition needed if our society is going to transition to a net-zero economy by 2050,” Microsoft’s environment chief, Lucas Joppa, told me. “Microsoft’s position is that the transition has to be an inclusive and just one.” The arrangement, with project financer, investor and developer Sol Systems , will prioritize opportunities and investments in communities “disproportionately affected by environmental challenges.” What does that mean more specifically?  The installations could be in urban neighborhoods that haven’t typically had access to economically priced clean energy resources or that historically have been disproportionately affected by pollution. But they also might be sited in rural communities that have been negatively affected by job losses triggered by the closure of fossil fuels plants or extraction operations, notes Sol Systems co-founder and CEO Yuri Horwitz. “We think it’s equally important that we engage all segments of society,” he said.  As anyone responsible for renewable energy knows, it historically has been very difficult to build metrics around the social impacts of projects. The arrangement also will prioritize buying from minority and women-owned businesses. And it will provide at least $50 million in the form of grants to support educational programs, career training, habitat restoration and initiatives that provide low-income communities with access to clean energy and energy efficiency programs. “Solar is, and should be, an economic engine for everyone,” Horwitz added. To make this work, the two companies created a framework power purchase agreement to cover individual projects as they are identified with the intention of getting them validated and approved more quickly. Among the terms: A certain portion of the revenue that’s generated will be reinvested back into the community where a solar farm is located. “You can do this at scale and at a price point that is economically doable,” Joppa said. Microsoft will use third-party evaluators to help quantify and document both the social and environmental outcomes.  Lily Donge, a former principal in the energy practice at Rocky Mountain Institute and now director of corporate innovation for communities with Groundswell, believes Microsoft’s deal with Sol Systems is a sign of things to come. “We do not know whether the community process will be equitable, transparent or consultative,” she wrote on the community solar organization’s blog. “But this is a signal that a giant tech company is willing to understand the demands of the community, under-served customers and the public at large.” As anyone responsible for renewable energy knows, it historically has been very difficult to build metrics around the social impacts of projects, but Sol Systems has been focusing on methodologies for doing so for the past 12 years — it already has about 800 MW of similar projects in its portfolio , including deals it has done for Amazon and Under Armour . The latter project was built in Maryland on land that couldn’t be used for residential development; it will contribute about $1.4 million in tax revenue to the local community. Another Sol Systems ally is Nationwide Insurance, its financing partner . This isn’t the only relationship Microsoft will use to procure energy in the future, so it will be important to watch how that consideration bleeds into other contracts. I’ll definitely be asking. You should do so, too. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe  here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote As anyone responsible for renewable energy knows, it historically has been very difficult to build metrics around the social impacts of projects. Topics Social Justice Renewable Energy Corporate Procurement Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Sol’s 196-kilowatt solar installation at Christ Church apartments, a low-to-moderate income senior living facility located on the Baltimore Harbor.  Courtesy of Sol Systems Close Authorship

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Behind Microsoft’s bold plan to build social equity into clean energy buying

22 insurers seriously assess climate risk — does yours?

October 25, 2016 by  
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Munich Re, Swiss Re, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Prudential, Travelers and the Hartford are found to give high-quality assessment of climate risks. But most insurers do not.

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22 insurers seriously assess climate risk — does yours?

22 insurers seriously assess climate risk — does yours?

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Business, Green

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Munich Re, Swiss Re, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Prudential, Travelers and the Hartford are found to give high-quality assessment of climate risks. But most insurers do not.

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22 insurers seriously assess climate risk — does yours?

Passive solar Trinity Apartments is a trendsetter for eco-friendly social housing in Australia

June 8, 2016 by  
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The Trinity Apartments set itself apart not only for its design and environmentally friendly features, but also for its genesis. The Directors of k20 Architecture selected and purchased the land and even raised the funds necessary to execute the project. The country’s National Rental Assistance Scheme (NRAS), a policy that uses private investment tax offsets to drive the development of low-cost housing , helped create the project foundation. The design concept for the Trinity Apartments draws from the notion of trinity, a concept born from religion that suggests balance and unity in the state of being three. Inspired by its location at the junction of three major crossroads in West Footscray, the trinity concept manifests itself in the building’s layout and facade, which feature Y-shaped patterns in the custom-designed precast concrete walls on the east and west. The shape appears again in the form of large roof cutouts in the north and south elevations. Related: This prefab social housing development functions as a diverse eco-neighborhood in France The interior is filled with natural light thanks to ample double-glazing and a three-story atrium at the entry. A larger-than-average foyer offers panoramic views of the city and helps foster social interaction among occupants. A rear social garden connects residents to nature, Stoney Creek, and the broader community. Passive solar design principles, high levels of insulation, eco-sensitive finishes, energy-efficient fittings, as well as motion and light sensors minimize energy use. + k20 Architecture Images via k20 Architecture

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Passive solar Trinity Apartments is a trendsetter for eco-friendly social housing in Australia

Is Smart the Most Sustainable Car on the Planet?

October 7, 2011 by  
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Image Credit: Courtesy of smart usa All anyone really ever talks about when it comes to automobiles is what’s coming out of the tailpipe. But fuel type is only one aspect of a car’s sustainability. For the better part of three weeks, I’ve been driving around the country in a smart promoting my new book Urban Green . The car company is a sponsor of my nationwide book tour. I’ve headed out into America to visit more than 20 colleges and universities to engage millennials to discover what they really thin… Read the full story on TreeHugger

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Is Smart the Most Sustainable Car on the Planet?

In New York City, Clothing Recycling Program Could Spur Nationwide Movement

July 10, 2010 by  
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Image via Ecouterre . Come September, one of the largest textile recycling initiatives in the nation will launch in New York City, the Associated Press reports (via Ecouterre ).

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In New York City, Clothing Recycling Program Could Spur Nationwide Movement

EPA Kicks Off Nationwide ‘Green Capitals’ Initiative

June 22, 2010 by  
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering comprehensive technical assistance to state capitals for the design and development of more sustainable neighborhoods — ones that incorporate green building and infrastructure to foster social, economic and environmental benefits.

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EPA Kicks Off Nationwide ‘Green Capitals’ Initiative

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