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In the blog post below, Silicon Ranch Chief Marketing Officer Matt Beasley discusses how customer-centric utilities can deploy renewable energy as an economic development tool to benefit the communities they serve.

About a year ago, the Smart Electric Power Alliance, better known as SEPA, published a member brief that truly resonated with me, titled Can Electric Utilities Meet the Renewable Energy Goals of Corporate Customers?  In compelling fashion, the authors presented the challenge before utilities in the face of ever-increasing corporate demand for renewables. More than 150 companies have pledged to be 100% renewable, including two-thirds of the Fortune 100, and many others, both large and small, have set renewable targets. SEPA interviewed the energy directors from several large corporations with such ambitions and gleaned tremendous insights, among them this clear directive from one of their sources:

“Utilities can learn from third-party developers and the private sector in how to be flexible and customer-centric. [Our business] lives and dies by customer centricity. Here’s my main message to utilities—they must be prepared to adjust as fast as [we] are changing based on what our customers want and need.”

In other words, the utilities that “get it” can work with the renewable energy industry to deploy a valuable tool that enhances their ability to recruit and retain and expand the hundreds of companies that have sustainability goals. And the utilities that don’t? Well, as another energy director interviewed for the SEPA brief remarked, they run the risk of “bleeding load” and losing their most valuable resource: customer loyalty.

Fast-forward a year later, and my company Silicon Ranch has just announced a landmark deal with Facebook to supply 102.5 megawatts (MWAC) of solar energy to help power its 970,000 square foot Newton Data Center in Georgia with 100% renewable energy. Facebook is one of the Fortune 100 companies leading the way with a strong commitment to be 100% renewable by the year 2020.

To be sure, securing a deal with Facebook is an honor for Silicon Ranch. But there’s more to this story. As our CEO Matt Kisber underscored at the time of the announcement, “Partnering on the project with a customer-focused, consumer-owned electric cooperative helped to inspire the collaboration.”

When Facebook announced it had chosen Newton County, Georgia as the site for its advanced, state-of-the-art facility, it highlighted access to renewable energy as a key factor in its selection process. What Facebook discovered when it reviewed Georgia as a potential site location was that its electric co-ops, known as Electric Membership Corporations (EMCs), are national leaders in renewable energy deployment. Moreover, Walton EMC, the consumer-owned co-op that serves Newton County, not only enjoys these impressive solar credentials but also has built an established reputation around customer and community service.  

In other words, Walton EMC “gets it.”  And the more you know about co-ops and their culture, the more you understand why. Co-ops are the very essence of “customer centricity” because they are owned by their customers. This inherently co-op characteristic is what made Walton EMC the ideal partner to put together an innovative, groundbreaking energy supply arrangement for Facebook’s Newton Data Center. When Silicon Ranch announced our agreement with these two like-minded organizations, CEO Matt Kisber highlighted this point:

“Facebook and Walton EMC are driven by a ‘concern for community’ and a commitment to the customers they serve. These principles have made them global and national leaders in their respective markets. As the long-term owner of every solar project we develop, Silicon Ranch shares these values, and we are proud to support the renewable energy goals of Facebook’s Newton Data Center while bringing an economic shot in the arm to rural Georgia.”

Silicon Ranch is proud to be part of this extraordinary partnership, one that has yielded the largest solar development in the state of Georgia, the largest in the nation for a distribution cooperative, and the largest of its kind with a corporate partner. The partnership will create more than 800 construction jobs and bring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefit to rural communities and local school systems. My friend Mark Cayce, the CEO of another inspiring co-op that Silicon Ranch has helped on behalf of an important corporate customer, puts it best: “When you start working on one good thing for the right reasons, other good things happen…working together as a unified team everybody wins.”

 Matt Beasley is Chief Marketing Officer at Silicon Ranch and President of the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association (TenneSEIA).