msnbc.com news services
updated 1/11/2006 12:08:37 PM ET 2006-01-11T17:08:37

Natural-food grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. said Tuesday it was buying environmentally friendly wind energy credits to offset all of the electricity it uses — making it the largest corporate user of renewable energy in the United States.

The company, based in Austin, Texas, said it is purchasing 458,000 megawatt-hours of wind energy credits a year — enough to power 44,000 homes annually — from Renewable Choice Energy of Boulder, Colo.

The decision follows the publicly traded company’s mission of environmental stewardship without losing sight of the bottom line, Whole Foods regional president Michael Besancon said.

“It’s a sales driver rather than a cost,” he said. “All of those things we do related to our core values: help drive sales, help convince a customer to drive past three or four other supermarkets on the way to Whole Foods.”

Besancon declined to discuss the cost of the purchase but said it was in line with the company’s current utility budget.

Because power does not flow from wind farms directly to a home or business through a utility grid, Whole Foods is purchasing energy credits — like a voucher — that assure wind energy eventually gets placed on the grid.

Wind costs a bit more than traditional sources of energy, so the credits cover the cost difference.

The company began rolling out wind energy for all 173 stores in the United States and Canada last month. Prior to that, 20 percent of its electricity had been from renewable sources.

As of Oct. 1, 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed Whole Foods as the eighth-largest user of renewable energy among U.S. corporations and governmental agencies.

Based on those figures, Tuesday’s announcement would put Whole Foods ahead of the U.S. Air Force (312,416 megawatt-hours) and corporate leader Johnson & Johnson (241,398 megawatt-hours), according to the EPA.

By buying renewable energy, Whole Foods said it would avoid more than 700 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution this year. To have the same environmental impact, more than 60,000 cars would have to be taken off the road, or more than 90,000 trees would have to be planted.

Other retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are experimenting with green energy on a smaller scale. Wal-Mart has built two environmentally friendly stores — one in Texas and one in Colorado — where it uses wind and solar power as well as biofuel from recycled cooking and motor oil.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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