In a deal brokered with UK-headquartered power generation company Metka EGN, Coles has entered a 10-year agreement to purchase around 70 per cent of the electricity that is generated by three new solar power plants, which Metka EGN will build in regional NSW.
The plants will be developed outside of Corowa, Junee and Wagga Wagga. Construction is due to begin next month, with power supply due to come online in July 2020.
According to Coles, the three plants combined will generate over 220 gigawatt hours of electricity into the national grid — enough to power an estimated 39,000 homes.
By being solar-driven rather than reliant on non-renewable sources, Coles said that 180,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved, the equivalent of taking 83,000 cars off our roads.
The retailer’s chief property and export officer, Thinus Keeve, said it was a first for a major Australian retailer to commit to using renewable energy by way of a power purchase agreement.
He added that in addition to this supply agreement, Coles would continue to invest in more solar panels for some of its stores nationwide.
“We plan to install solar panels on another 38 stores this financial year and we will be working with our landlords and property developers to identify further locations suitable for on-site solar power generation,” Mr Keeve said.
Metka EGN Australia’s office could not be reached. Its London headquarters have been contacted for comment.
‘Commitment to be most sustainable supermarket’
Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said the listed company has a goal of becoming Australia’s most sustainable supermarket chain, which is behind the move towards solar-powered electricity.
“Coles has been a cornerstone of Australian retail for more than 100 years, and ensuring the sustainability of our business is essential to success in our second century,” Mr Cain said in a statement.
“We are thrilled that with this agreement, Coles can make a significant contribution to the growth of renewable energy supply in Australia as well as to the communities we serve.”
According to Mr Cain, other measures implemented across the business have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 4 per cent last financial year, and 30 per cent since 2009, in spite of its store network expanding over that time.
“Over the past two financial years alone, we have invested more than $40 million in energy efficiency measures, including upgrading all store lighting to LED by the end of 2019 and the installation of solar panels on 30 stores.”
Plastic toys a ‘slap in the face’
Despite the claims on sustainability, Coles has faced significant public criticism over its Little Shop 2 collectibles, amid concerns that the plastic toys are anything but sustainable.
An online petition on change.org has almost reached its target of 75,000 signatures, with 72,245 signatures listed as at 1.15pm on Tuesday (20 July).
“Are you gobsmacked that Coles has brought out a new range of ‘Little Shop’ toys during plastic-free July?” the petition, started by Sara Coates, states.
“This is when most people are doing their best to bring their own bags, choosing less packaging on their food and saying no to straws. Here you are handing out plastic junk that will end in landfill or in our oceans.”
It continues: “This is a slap in the face for all people who care about the future of our planet. It’s time to think of our children and what their future will look like with all this unnecessary plastic. Let’s use our wallets as voices and not shop there anymore.”
Coles has been approached for comment.