Auto giant General Motors recently announced it is purchasing 200 megawatts of wind power to service factories in Indiana and Ohio. Although the new wind power will help produce gas guzzling vehicles, the shift is a welcome development for the renewable energy industry and makes good business sense, according to two Cornell University experts.
Glen Dowell is a leading corporate sustainability researcher and associate professor of management and organizations at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. He says GM’s renewable energy commitment can have significant impact.
“It can be tempting to label initiatives such as GM’s announcement that it is going to power its factories with wind power as pure ‘greenwashing’ – after all, the major climate change impact for GM comes from the emissions of the cars it sells, not from its factories’ burning of fossil fuels.
“But such criticisms are misplaced – companies play a major role in legitimizing technologies like wind or solar power, and by making major investments in these technologies, they can help drive costs down. Rather than being cynical about this investment, it’s better to engage with companies to make sure that moves like this are a starting point, not an end.”
Arthur Wheaton, an automotive expert and senior extension associate with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations says GM’s decision is good fiscal policy.
“It seems counterintuitive for GM to purchase wind energy to produce trucks but not all decisions are based on economics. General Motors’ decision to purchase large scale wind energy to power its manufacturing plants makes good public relations and likely fiscal sense.
“Wind energy is less prone to price changes as the energy sector tends to be volatile. The electric grid in the United States needs multiple sources of energy generation for stability of power during peak demand.
“Wind, solar, gas etc. are used to power the electricity in much the same way that the auto industry uses gas, electric, hybrid, fuel-cell, and compressed natural gas to power their vehicles. GM must be able to produce multiple propulsion vehicles to meet variable needs in turbulent and cyclical times. It is difficult to pick which energy production or which energy propulsion system will end up being the long-term solution to our energy and vehicle needs.
“By investing in wind GM is helping to encourage renewable solutions in addition to traditional sources until that transition can be accomplished. If that comes with good publicity for being green, that is a bonus as well.”