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Clean Energy Buyers Institute Educates Beyond Emission Reductions

This blog is part of our series spotlighting leaders in the pursuit and development of Responsible Renewables projects. This series is being hosted in collaboration with Schneider Electric and Korn Ferry. For a background on responsible renewables, we encourage you to start with the introductory blog, which explores the issues and opportunities.

wind turbines and solar panels with sunsetThe next installment of our responsible renewables spotlight series focuses on the Clean Energy Buyers Institute (CEBI) and their Beyond the Megawatt (BTM) program which aims to provide industry-leading companies with new ways to advance procurement standards in their clean energy journey. This includes integrating environmental sustainability, resilience, and social considerations in procurement decisions.

CEBI is a non-profit organization focused on solving the toughest market and policy barriers to achieving a carbon-free energy system in collaboration with policymakers, leading philanthropies, and energy market stakeholders. The work predominantly stems from their sister organization, the Clean Energy Buyers Association (CEBA), whose members have led the transition to a carbon-free energy system by adding over 60 gigawatts of new clean energy capacity to the U.S. electricity system, as well as globally, since 2014.

Meet the Beyond the Megawatt team:

In this edition, we had a conversation with Phoebe Romero, Sr. Manager, Equity, who is deeply passionate about building collaborative relationships to advance climate and environmental justice. As part of CEBI's Beyond the Megawatt team, she’s currently focused on leveraging the influence of corporate clean energy procurement to advance an equitable and just energy transition. She previously co-led efforts to develop and implement the Austin Climate Equity Plan at the City of Austin Office of Sustainability, which aimed to reduce community-wide emissions while also advancing racial equity.

To kick things off, could you provide some insights into how the BTM program at CEBI originated, and what key motivations or factors led to its inception?

This program is in response to our customers at CEBI, who are demanding a transformation in procurement practices and aspire to be industry leaders. So, I'd say that the program itself officially launched in 2022, but there has been work to get started before that, including Salesforce releasing “More than a Megawatt”, our partnership with Groundswell to engage in a Working Wisdom Listening Tour and the release of a Corporate and Community Engagement Primer. This has been in addition to robust research and countless conversations with stakeholders. Having several of our customers and partners that are leading the way through their engagement allows us to learn directly from them, and shape the process moving forward. One of the biggest aspirations of the program is to make this procurement adoption the norm, and begin to leverage the demand of all of the customers, developers, and service providers as well. There's this entire ecosystem of providers and buyers that make up the community, and we’re all learning together to create the desired impact. 

How does CEBI perceive the integration of resiliency, environmental sustainability, and equity within the context of driving impactful renewable solutions?

One common theme we have found across our working groups is that the desire for impact is there The question is around how to manage these risks and maximize the co-benefits for people and nature most effectively. There are leaders who know exactly what they want, such as workforce and supplier diversity, conservation, end-of-life considerations, or upstream impacts. And then there are stakeholders that need more awareness and education on these issues. There are, of course, people in between, who believe it would be great to have community benefits, but they're not exactly sure what those might be or how to implement them. Our role is providing the awareness and education for many new buyers on this journey. We aim to make it accessible to all so that we can have the scalable impact, as well as providing a procurement methodology that ensures that projects meet these higher standards.

Many corporate entities in this market strive diligently to successfully execute deals, which can be challenging given the current market conditions. Do you believe that this poses a potential barrier to entry for corporations?

We think of it more as a perceived barrier, going beyond the megawatt. It's not a true barrier because buyers don’t need to eat the whole pie, they can work with developers towards just a slice to get started. Take our work on equity for example — we are diving deep into how to talk about co-benefits with the community. What we have found is that it can be very intimidating to buyers to figure out how to build things like an equitable workforce training program in partnership with the developer and community. But we want to demystify this process, because it truly is about working together. With that, we are bringing awareness to other examples of community centered co-benefits, such as those that have been recently pursued by partners like Microsoft and Google. We're also including supportive guidance on how these can be embedded into project planning so that it’s less intimidating. We also know that sometimes there is a premium to the price (though not always!), and it could be harder to sell to leadership, and we acknowledge that. However, we think that this work and the outcomes are important to overcome. We are working on ways to measure the value of these attributes and dismantle perceived barriers to make going beyond the megawatt the industry norm.

Looking at it differently, there is also immense value in being proactive versus reactive. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed last year includes a policy that pushes this forward by providing extra tax incentives to develop on tribal lands or working with communities facing socio-economic challenges. There is an aspect here that even if you’re an early-stage buyer, you can get ahead of some of these future trends, and build a roadmap to embed some of these principles. Additionally, there's reputational risk, oppositional risk, and all of these instances of not doing the work as well as you could be. While we are not trying to overtly focus on the challenges, it’s important to acknowledge that local restrictions continue to rise across the country, and ensuring a social license to operate through pursuing meaningful engagement and co-benefits is more important than ever.

How can buyers and sellers effectively leverage this tool to proactively support their objectives, and is it accessible to a global audience?

Yes, we are so happy to share that the Maximizing Community Co-Benefits Through Clean Energy Procurement primer is available! It focuses on social equity and provides guidance on social co-benefits — defined as positive community outcomes that complement the emissions-reduction benefits from downstream clean energy projects. We will be launching additional Sustainability and Resilience primers in the future, along with procurement questions and a due diligence framework. We would encourage anyone who is not a CEBA member to consider engaging with BTM and staying up-to-date as we release future deliverables.

While global accessibility is probably one of our biggest challenges, one of our biggest goals is to also make this applicable across the country. We recognize that every single community is unique. And so, I think there's that challenge of making things scalable, in addition to meeting buyers or developers where they are. We know that some organizations are much more able to dedicate extra funds to maximize impact, but there are also issues that are vital to address. We are therefore exploring opportunities to work with international organizations, from a supply chain and human rights perspective. That's really, really important. Scaling to that level and making this applicable for international perspectives is essential. We worked with Equitable Origin on our due diligence framework to make sure that much of that language is accessible outside of the United States, as well.

The BTM program can be applied to any corporation looking to procure clean energy which CEBI lays out in their environmental sustainability, social equity, and resilience energy procurement journey roadmap to include in your business priorities. We encourage you to read on to learn more.

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