GM Expands Its Commitment to Renewables

GM Global Renwable Manager Rob Threlkeld at Rochester Array(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week General Motors unveiled a new 466 kW solar array at its Rochester Operations plant in Rochester, New York. The array is expected to provide 570,420 kWh of electricity per year. According to Plant Manager Neal Evans, that’s approximately 3% of what the plant uses. The array is located in a parking lot which is no longer needed since the operation has downsized. It’s equivalent to the energy used by 57 homes.

The array was built by Meridian Solar and Sustainable Energy Developments, Inc. with financial assistance from New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA).

The 78-year-old plant has been recognized previously for energy efficiency (by reducing energy intensity by 29.4% led by facilities manager Bob Randazzo) and for its waste reduction efforts (becoming landfill-free in 2013).

Rob Threlkeld, GM Global Manager of Renewable Energy, was present for the event. He said that GM now has 22 solar arrays around the world, that produce a total of 48 MW. All told that covers an area the size of 130 football fields, or a little over 170 acres. With this installation, GM has developed 106 of the 125 MW of renewable energy that they initially targeted. Threlkeld told Justmeans that he hoped to announce a new, more aggressive goal before the end of the year.  Included in that number are waste to energy facilities and landfill gas. He also said that wind power would soon be added to the mix.

The company is not switching to renewables just to be green. Threlkeld says the company has saved $80 million since beginning the transition to renewables in 1996. They are currently saving roughly $5 million per year by using renewables.

Given GM’s many plants and the targeting they have set for renewables, it’s clear that a plant selection process is required. One criteria that Threlkeld mentioned, besides siting and the enthusiasm of the team, was the level of local and state support. New York State has been aggressively pursuing renewables, extending its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to call for 50% renewables by 2030.  Threlkeld praised Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NYSUN initiative which has set a target of 3 GW of solar for the state. NY has seen a 575% growth rate of solar in the period from 2011-2014. Threlkeld also mentioned the availability of net metering as a key draw in bringing the array to this facility.

Electric power produced by these panels feeds directly into the power grid. GM is credited for every kWh the array produces which is subtracted from the facility’s monthly bill. So there is no need to connect the array to the building, which, according to Plant Manager Evans, saved them the expense of tunneling under the parking lot to run wires. It also avoids the cost of batteries or any other type of storage system.

“Our success here will benefit the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Alliance (REBA), an organization that helps smaller companies source renewable power.” REBA has set a goal of 60GW of additional renewable power to be purchased by corporations in the US by 2025.

GM is the now leading solar purchaser among American automobile manufacturers.

Photo of Rob Threlkeld addressing crowd in front of GM Rochester's new solar array, by RP Siegel