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Kaiser Permanente eyes carbon neutrality, better community health with renewable energy deal

System has signed a definitive power purchase agreement for 180 megawatts of clean energy, which is enough to power 27 of its 39 hospitals.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Nonprofit giant Kaiser Permanente has rounded a significant corner in the healthcare system's quest to be carbon neutral by 2020. The system has signed a definitive power purchase agreement for 180 megawatts of clean energy, which is enough to power 27 of its 39 hospitals. The purchase will enable the construction of "utility-scale" solar and wind farms, as well as a large battery-energy storage system.

The agreement will make Kaiser Permanente the biggest buyer of renewable energy in the U.S. healthcare sector, the system said. The solar farm and battery storage will be located in Riverside County. The wind farm will be located in Arizona, however the power transmission will go directly to the California grid. The projects are expected to come online in 2020 and 2021.

Kaiser Permanente declined to specify the price of the energy purchase but said its long-term renewable energy purchases are designed to be cost-neutral or cost-saving over the life of the purchase agreements. Locking in set prices with long-term agreements ensures a hedge against fluctuating prices in the wholesale energy markets. and the agreements required "no investment" by the system. 

"At Kaiser Permanente, we understand that one of the most effective ways to protect the health of the more than 68 million people in the communities we serve is by ensuring healthy environmental conditions. By investing in renewable energy and becoming carbon neutral, Kaiser Permanente is helping to prevent climate-related illness for people worldwide,"  said Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson.

Climate-related illnesses or impact on health include increased rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, spread of infectious diseases, heat-related illnesses and injuries from severe weather events and wildfires.

Kaiser Permanente announced its unique goal in 2016 to become carbon neutral in 2020. So far they have reduced their net greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent since 2008 and cut water usage by 12 percent per square foot of building space since 2013, according to Kaiser Permanente.

The system also opened California's first LEED Platinum hospital, the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, in April 2017 and boasts California's first hospital-based renewable microgrid at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center. That is an energy system that collects, stores and releases energy on demand and stays operational even if the power grid goes down. In Richmond, a 250-kilowatt solar panel installation is located on the rooftop of the medical center's parking garage, which generates clean power while the sun is out. The microgrid is able to store one megawatt-hour of energy in batteries until it is needed.

Kaiser Permanente has also taken notable steps to impact social determinants of health such as homelessness and firearm injury prevention. In May, the system announced it had committed $200 million to address homelessness in the communities it serves, an investment that will go through the system's Thriving Communities Fund and initially focus on preventing displacement or homelessness of middle or lower-income households in "rapidly changing communities," by ensuring supportive housing and enhancing housing to make it healthier and environmentally sound.

KP pointed out that housing plays a crucial role in a person's health and well-being. Before that, In April, the system said it was investing $2 million to research gun violence in the hopes of abating gun injuries and death in forming the Kaiser Permanente Task Force on Firearm Injury Prevention. The clinician-guided research team seeks to identify evidence-based tools that can guide clinical and community prevention efforts. 

In 2016, firearm-related injuries claimed over 30,000 lives in America. Kaiser Permanente physicians and nurses treated more than 11,000 victims of gunshot wounds in 2016 and 2017 the system said.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

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