As we all head into the allegedly merriest but unquestionably darkest part of the northern hemisphere year, it might be instructive to read, critically, between the lines and past the buzzwords, the self-congratulatory (and effective) 2015 Corporate Social Responsibility Report from Loblaw Companies Limited.
A lot of us will be dropping by some Loblaw grocery outlet somewhere in Ontario to top up the Christmas supplies. In 34 pages of slick promotion, Loblaw wants us to know we will be buying ethical, green groceries. The company really pats itself on the back. Company president Galen Weston makes it clear his outfit has ticked every box in every category near and dear to the heart of whatever eco-minded postmodern might chance upon the report.
On the environment, Weston says:
- “We continued our impressive reduction of store energy use…”
- “[We] have now eliminated 8.5 billion plastic shopping bags since 2007…”
- “A team from Loblaw ventured to the Paris climate summit…”
i.e., a big CHECK next to each of these. And a big gold star for Loblaw—even if the Loblaw team ventured to Paris (and back) on a kerosene powered airplane.
In the Energy Efficiency section on page 14, there is a list of allegedly efficiency-related measures the company has taken. The last item in the list reports that Loblaw:
- Installed solar panels on the rooftops of 62 Loblaw facilities in Ontario.
Loblaw has certainly been going to town putting solar panels on its store roofs. According to the IESO’s Active Generation Contract List, a data dump consisting of an Excel spreadsheet that contains summary details on thousands1 of contracts the IESO now oversees, there are 23 FIT projects associated with Real Canadian Superstore (a Loblaw brand). These 23 installations represent a total of 7.2897 megawatts installed capacity.
The most recent in-commercial-operation date in the RCS list was October 1, 2014. The FIT rate for roof-mounted solar more than 100 kilowatts and less than or equal to 500 kW was 31.6 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Let’s give Loblaw an annual capacity factor of 15 percent for these 23 roof-mounted solar systems on these 23 Real Canadian Superstores.2
Multiply the reported capacity from the table above by 8,760 hours per year then by 15 percent then by the FIT rate. Since 2014, those 23 RCSes have collectively brought in more than $3 million a year from their panels.3 And who has paid those $3 million each year to Loblaw for the “green” energy that could have been purchased far more cheaply by simply buying Ontario hydro or nuclear power, which is at least five times less expensive? Why you, me, and thousands of Ontario electricity ratepayers. Including every RCS customer who pays an Ontario electricity bill.
This is what Loblaw considers corporate social responsibility: profiting from a totally unnecessary and obviously greenwashed government-mandated get-rich-quick scheme that was designed to line the pockets of those who possess real estate and can borrow lots of money.
Every RCS I have ever shopped at has a major natural gas hookup. RCSes are heated using natural gas, which is a fossil fuel that emits huge amounts of carbon dioxide as well as air pollution like nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Did Loblaw install the solar panels on its store roofs so as to decrease its use of natural gas? Not on your life. Every watt of solar power generated by those panels gets priority injection into the Ontario electricity grid, where we ratepayers are forced to buy it whether we want to or not.
For example, the RCS on Innes Road in Ottawa: this is a big complex with over 13,100 square meters of space. Its outdoor-facing dimensions are approximately:
- 13,100 square meters of roof.
- 13,100 m2 of floor.
- 781 m2 of (mostly windowed) store front.
- 6,783 m2 of non-windowed wall.
This store has 494 kilowatts of solar panels on its roof, says the above filtered IESO contract list. At the peak insolation hour (which in Ottawa at Christmas-time is around one p.m. and doesn’t last even an hour), could these panels heat the building?
It is difficult to say. I do not know the U factors for the above-mentioned building elements. But why don’t I give the roof, floor, and non-windowed wall areas a U factor of 0.3, and the windowed storefront a U factor of 1.5. On that basis, the Innes Road RCS had a heat demand at one p.m. on Wednesday December 13 of around 468 kilowatts.4
So conceivably the solar array on the roof could at that moment have provided more than enough power—if the sun had been out (which I think it was not)—and if my U factor estimates are close.
But more to the point, even if the panels were capable of heating the place for even a single hour, they most certainly cannot provide heat through the day, no matter how sunny it is.
With this in mind, would Loblaw ever have installed them on the roof for that purpose?
The answer is obviously no. Those panels are there for two reasons, neither of which has anything to do with providing the energy that keeps the building habitable in winter:
- To earn revenue (on the dime of Ontario ratepayers), so that Loblaw stores can get a financial edge on the competition.
- To give Loblaw something to crow about in its CSR report, seeing that solar panels, while utterly useless most of the time and horrendously expensive during the sparse time they actually produce power, are, in the mind of the misled public, cute, cuddly, and politically correct.
By the way, the Ottawa Innes Road RCS solar installation fetches a rate of 53.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The solar panels on RCS roofs do not represent true corporate social responsibility. They represent corporate rent seeking.
Low-income Ontarians, you are paying for that solar power. Remember that the next time you open your electricity bill and wonder why it is so high.
I did note, didn’t I, that the IESO active generation contract list grew by nearly 400 between April and the end of September 2017?
- 4,106, according to the most recently published version, up from the 3,782 reported in April; you can download it from this page
- Celebrating the installation of power generation capacity that achieves nothing better than a 15 percent capacity factor is a bit ironic for a section on energy efficiency. Fifteen percent is a terrible capacity factor. Solar is the very least efficient form of power generation.
- Most of the RSC panels were installed prior to 2014, and got a better FIT rate. I am going with the “least expensive” rate, just to be conservative.
- See my December 13 post, where I noted the difference in the cost of natural gas-fired heat and Ontario electric heat.