OAKLAND, Calif. — Concerned about climate change and its threat to human health, Kaiser Permanente today said it will purchase enough renewable energy to provide half of the electricity it uses in California and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions nationwide by 30 percent.
Greenhouse gas emissions are a known contributor to climate change and the rise of pollution and disease. In 2012, Kaiser Permanente adopted a national sustainable energy policy and launched an ambitious strategy to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 (compared to 2008 levels).
Already a leading user of green power, Kaiser Permanente has agreed to support the construction and operation of three new renewable energy projects that will come online in 2016 and generate 590 million kilowatt hours of power a year. That’s equivalent to the amount of electricity used by more than 82,000 American homes a year.
The renewable energy projects will make Kaiser Permanente one of the top users of green power in the country and will allow the health care system to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goal three years earlier than promised.
“Climate change isn’t a distant threat, said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship officer. “The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, spread of infectious diseases, heat stress and injuries from severe weather events. By addressing climate change for the future, we are improving the health of communities today.”
Gerwig’s new book “Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet,” addresses the health care industry’s considerable environmental footprint and what innovative organizations, NGOs and others are doing to make hospitals healthier places.
Among their top priorities is limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases. Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Health Care Without Harm and the Business Renewables Center, launched recently by nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, to help not only the health care industry, but the entire U.S. business sector, move toward more abundant clean energy solutions.
With 38 hospitals, over 600 medical offices, and additional warehouse and administrative space, Kaiser Permanente uses nearly 1.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, and emits 806,000 metric tons of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It expects its annual greenhouse gas emissions to decrease to 617,000 metric tons by 2017 as a result of these clean-energy purchases as well as other initiatives to reduce energy consumption and increase the amount of power coming from renewable sources. These energy strategies have already contributed to a 5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2008, even while Kaiser Permanente was expanding health care services to patients and communities.
“The energy we use to run our medical centers and other buildings produces the majority of our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ramé Hemstreet, Kaiser Permanente’s chief energy officer. “Replacing fossil fuels as an energy source with green power is the most important action we can take to address the impacts of climate change on health and to reduce pollutants that can lead to disease.”
Through a 20-year contract with an affiliate of NextEra Energy Resources, the largest generator of wind and solar energy in North America, Kaiser Permanente will purchase the green energy produced from110 megawatts at NextEra Energy Resources’ Blythe solar energy plant in Riverside County, California, as well as the output from 43 megawatts of wind power from new turbines at the Golden Hills wind farm on the Altamont Pass in Alameda County.
NextEra Energy Resources plans to replace less-efficient turbines on the wind farm — one of the oldest and largest concentrations of windmills in the U.S. — with new, more efficient equipment. Kaiser Permanente’s agreement to purchase power from NextEra Energy Resources supports the construction and operation of these renewable energy projects. Construction on both the wind and solar farms is expected to continue over the next two years, with Kaiser Permanente starting to use power from the plants in 2016.
In a separate agreement, Kaiser Permanente agreed to purchase as much as 70 megawatts of onsite solar production from NRG Energy Inc., the nation's largest independent power producer.
Already a top user of onsite solar power, Kaiser Permanente is looking to add rooftop and ground-mounted solar arrays to as many as 170 of its hospitals and other campuses in California. The site-selection process will continue over the next several months, with construction on the first phase of onsite solar systems starting in 2015 and continuing until all systems are up and producing power by Dec. 31, 2016. NRG will finance, build, own, and operate the photovoltaic systems, and distribute the power back to Kaiser Permanente at a fixed cost over the course of a 20-year contract.
The agreements to purchase additional green energy come as both state and global leaders call for stronger climate action.
“This effort is smart not only from the operational, energy use, and environmental perspectives. It will also make the places where we live, work, learn and play healthier,” said Cynthia Telles, chair of the Community Benefit Committee of the boards of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. “A foundational tenet of medicine is to ‘do no harm,’ and that extends to the effect our operations can have on the environment and our communities. This work demonstrates our progress in both areas,” she said.
Kaiser Permanente received a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its use of solar power at 11 of its hospitals and other locations. The number of locations using onsite solar power has since grown to include Kaiser Permanente facilities in Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon. Kaiser Permanente also purchases wind energy to match 100 percent of the electricity used at the offices and outpatient facilities it owns in Maryland and the District of Columbia, as well as at its large data center in the region.
“Pursuing renewable energy opportunities is not only the right thing to do for our communities, it makes good business sense,” Hemstreet said.
Purchasing renewable energy not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but it protects organizations from the risk of energy-price escalation by locking in costs for 20 years. Renewables also diversify energy portfolios and support health care providers’ core mission of improving health.
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 9.6 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health.