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REI Commits to Sourcing Locally Generated Renewable Energy Across All Retail Stores

As it celebrates the tenth anniversary of its shift to renewable power, REI Co-op is taking its clean energy commitment a step further.

The national outdoor retailer last week announced that it plans to source locally generated renewable energy for all 181 stores to increase community access where its stores are located. The company will support clean energy projects that also benefit homeowners, renters and small businesses.

REI wants to connect more people and organizations with renewable power sources like wind and solar, reducing emissions while highlighting the benefits of renewable energy. One-quarter of carbon emissions in the U.S. comes from electric generation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Climate change is the greatest threat to the future of life outside, and we need everyone in the fight to have access to the renewable energy transition,” Kate Wendt, REI vice president of strategy, transformation and sustainability, said. “We’re maximizing our impact by working with communities and utilities across the U.S. to ensure that renewable energy is more local and more accessible.” REI hopes its renewables initiative will help dismantle “the barriers to access faced by small businesses and communities,” she continued.

“We’ll be working on simplifying the process of sourcing renewable electricity for everyone so we can accelerate the transition to clean energy,” Wendt added.

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Over the past decade, REI has added solar panels to its buildings, purchased renewable energy from the grid and purchasing renewable energy certificates. It has used its purchasing power to drive investments in renewable energy production in Washington state, and was a founding partner in Puget Sound Energy’s Green Direct program, which sources wind power for use by REI and other local buyers. 

The push to drive up local renewable energy production will rely on a multifaceted strategy. REI said it will continue to install solar panels to contribute to local power grids, work with utilities providers to offer renewable power programs to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and attempt to simplify transactions with project developers so businesses of all sizes can access renewable energy.

Rising clean energy demand has largely priced out SMBs, which often then buy renewable energy certificates to meet their environmental goals, REI said. These certificates guarantee that a certain amount of renewable energy is created and fed into the power grid and effectively offsets the buyer’s energy use. However, that renewable energy is not necessarily produced in the area in which it ultimately consumed. According to REI, committing to locally generated renewable energy will help drive demand for new wind and solar development, while wider adoption will bring the cost down.

“Renewable energy purchases are increasingly complex, require high volume purchases and long-term agreements that aren’t possible for most small businesses to commit to,” Wendt said. “Not every customer can buy renewable energy at the scale of a national retailer.” REI is working to engineer new models for clean energy purchasing alongside the Clean Energy Buyer’s Association, she added.

Progress is already being made in several projects. REI is working with Middle Tennessee Electric to install a 1.1 megawatt (MW) rooftop solar array that will help power its new distribution center. The company currently operates more than 20 rooftop solar installations.

REI has also teamed with to develop a solar power development in Texas that will supply its six retail stores in Dallas and Houston with 2,500 megawatt hours of energy each year. The co-op has worked with the startup to create a new transaction model that simplifies the purchase of smaller amounts of renewable energy for use by SMBs. They hope local retailers and other businesses beyond large, corporate buyers will be inspired to join renewable energy projects.