Branded Wind Farms: The American Way?
An eight-turbine wind farm will open in Panhandle, Texas in May. But instead of referring to it as “that Panhandle wind farm,” it will be have a branded, corporate name: “The Wege Wind Energy Farm, provided by Steelcase.”
Steelcase, a large furniture company out of Michigan, has agreed ahead of time to buy all of the wind farm’s renewable energy credits (RECs) for the first five years it’s in operation. Steelcase also paid a premium to name the farm after Peter Wege, the son of the founder of Steelcase and a big environmentalist.
Going greener isn’t new for the company, which aims to cut its carbon footprint 25 percent by 2012. The RECs from the Wege Wind Energy Farm will offset the equivalent of about 20 percent of the company’s power.
While one could be argued that the name “Wege” doesn’t mean anything to people outside of Michigan therefore is bad branding, many clean energy supporters and business people alike predict this naming trend will continue. Andrew Winston, an environmental consultant and author, told the New York Times:
The demand for wind power and for R.E.C.’s is out pacing the supply, so I won’t be surprised to see more companies trying to lock up the renewable energy credits that become available.
Building a utility-scale wind farm isn’t cheap: Turbines are at least $1 million a piece, there are legal fees, permits, construction costs and coordination and planning with the utility and transmission arrangements. More money invested in exchange for naming rights may not be a bad idea, especially for smaller-scale projects in rural communities. Bradley W. Johnson, John Deere’s director for business development and the builder of the Wege Wind Energy Farm, sees the branding of wind farms as a good thing:
This is a new business model, and it could attract any brand that wants to be linked with sustainability. Imagine the G.M. wind farm, the Apple wind farm — it’s not unthinkable at all.