fresh voices from the front lines of change







The Dell computer company just announced a milestone. It is now a carbon-neutral business. And by powering itself with clean energy, Dell is saving money.

The Wall Street Journal blog Environmental Capital reports:

Dell’s reliance on greater energy efficiency and renewable energy is now saving the company $3 million a year. Okay, a drop in the bucket. [Dell makes a profit of $11.7 billion.] But more importantly for other companies of all sizes, Dell executives say the internal returns on the efficiency drive are stellar: Most of the new projects pay for themselves in less than two years, and almost all the projects pay back in less than three.

“Since we figure we’ll still be in business in three years, it just makes sense,” said Dane Parker, Dell’s global director of environment, health and safety.

Dell’s Round Rock, Texas, headquarters are already famously 100 percent powered by clean energy. But since 2004, the rest of the company has increased renewable-energy purchases ten-fold. Conventional wisdom says buying things like wind power is an expensive luxury, since wind and other alternative energies are more expensive than traditional power sources.

Not anymore—wildly volatile electricity prices thanks to higher coal and natural gas prices mean Dell’s actually saving money by going green, just like the city of Houston. Getting clean energy on long-term agreements locks in rates that can suddenly look cheap as other power bills soar. “It gives you price certainty compared with the volatility of traditional sources, so it’s a money-saver,” said Mr. Parker.

Conservatives will likely look at this milestone and argue that the market is taking care of everything itself. That is utterly detached from reality. Dell is on the leading edge, but without a change in energy policy, it will be the exception and not the rule.

Fact is, there is nothing “free” about the global energy market. In the U.S., oil and coal are nuclear are propped up by government policies. And we buy plenty of foreign oil from nationalized companies in the OPEC cartel.

There could be many more Dells. But today, our energy policy primarily supports clean energy instead of fossil fuels. It doesn’t have to be that way.

The argument that investing the clean energy is too pie-in-the-sky and economically dangerous is now debunked. Much of the technology is already here, and Dell is successfully using it without hurting its bottom line.

The main obstacle for getting available clean energy technology on line is the initial cost. As Dell shows, it pays for itself over time, but many businesses and families can’t front the initial costs.

And of course, there are community infrastructure needs — wind farms, smart electric grids — that only our federal, state and local governments can take the lead on. (Such as the town of Rock Port, Mo., which is now 100 percent powered by wind.)

That’s where government policy is crucial, making the financial investments and incentives so all households and companies have real energy choices, and can make decisions that make America more energy secure and economically vibrant.

So if you’re sick and tired of volatile energy costs, and want stable affordable prices from clean energy, know that we can make it happen.

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