By on October 9, 2018

The Texas plant producing General Motors’ body-on-frame SUVs is clean and green, even if the vehicles it builds are anything but Prius-like.

In August, the 43 turbines of Southern Power’s 148 MW Cactus Flats Wind Facility became operational in Concho County, Texas. GM, along with General Mills (the tastier GM) both have contracts to purchase power from the facility — in GM’s case, some 50 MW of it per year. That means it can now claim its Arlington, Texas assembly plant is 100 percent powered by renewable energy. The Environmental Protection Agency just placed GM at No. 76 on its list of the country’s largest green power users.

It’s amazing the kind of tree-hugging press one can get for a factory that essentially builds dinosaurs.

While it’s easy to fully surrender to cynicism when it comes to environmental PR efforts, GM deserves kudos for going green on the manufacturing side of things. The power bought from Cactus Flats, plus that of another wind farm, is enough to keep the lights on and the assembly line humming at 16 GM facilities across Texas and the U.S. South. It’s part of a pledge to make the company’s facilities 100 percent green by 2050.

But at Arlington, there’s a bizarre juxtaposition. Of the models built there — the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade, the number of variants found with a hybrid drivetrain number zero. That same figure can be applied to vehicles sold without a V8 engine beneath the hood. GM cancelled the nearly invisible hybrid versions of its full-size SUVs half a decade ago. They weren’t missed. Currently, the highest combined fuel economy available from an Arlington-produced vehicle is 18 mpg. Curb weights don’t dip below 5,000 pounds, let alone 4,000.

Does the fact that these V8-powered behemoths appear in environmentalists’ nightmares take away from planet-saving efforts taking place in the vehicle’s periphery? Depends on who you ask.

If GM told the green movement to shove it and bought power straight from the Texas grid, it would be helping sustain a generation landscape where nearly half of power comes from coal, some 40 percent of it being high-polluting lignite. With this move, the big, brawny SUVs Americans clearly love have a nice, protective green blanket to wrap themselves in. Sure, the models’ popularity and generous engine displacement contributes to a countrywide fleet fuel economy average that hasn’t budged in years, but at the end of the day, that’s the consumers’ fault. Unless you’re Bill de Blasio, there’s always a cleaner alternative to your current ride.

GM didn’t have to do this, so it can be seen as admirable environmental penance. To other eyes, it’s purely cynical greenwashing — a PR solution that’s far cheaper than redesigning the current large SUVs with lighter frames and bodies, downsized engines, and MSRP-hiking hybridization. Whatever your view, GM will eventually have to revamp its BOF family to stay ahead of rival Ford. A restyling is due for 2020.

[Image: General Motors]

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42 Comments on “GM Gets EPA Nod for Building the Most Greenwashed Large SUVs on the Market...”


  • avatar
    TheBestPlaceEver

    For the record, Bill de Blasio is infamous for being driven around in the very vehicles this plant makes – I’ve never heard of him on a bike. Those are for the hoi poloi.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Hmm, that’s pretty neat. Sounds like a good thing overall. I would be curious how much the planetary return on investment is, but it may be hard to get enough real data to compare lightweight vehicle investment to green power investment.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    More relevant is what fraction of GM’s vehicles use green power to produce them.

    It’s actually better for this plant to produce high-selling Tahoes than low-selling Bolts.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    The plate rating of the Vestas turbines totals 148MW power generation rate. The actual power at any time will be a percentage – I’ve seen 30% of rating based on actual production. If that is still the case,and I think it is, then GMotors will take all the actual energy produced and leave GMills barely enough to produced a few boxes of Cocoa Puffs.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Im sure some eco-weenie will proclaim that a 1 mpg improvement to these dinosaurs would be better for the environment than all this solar-wrapping.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Reading stuff like this always cracks me up. The facility (at 7515 County Road 2246, west of Eden, Texas, in Concho County, near San Angelo) is about 250 miles west-southwest of the Arlington GM plant. Unless they strung transmission lines directly from the facility to the plant, how can they say that they’re 100 percent green, except for the fact that the facility is producing electricity for Southern Power, and that GM is buying electricity from Southern Power?

    And in case you were interested, here is a YouTube video from last Thursday, from one of the local TV stations in San Angelo, of the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Cactus Flats facility:

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    When Steph was 7-years old, a Chevy Silverado pickup ran over their dog. As they ran out of their house crying, the driver stopped to see what the commotion was and backed up, running over the dog again. Steph fell to the ground wailing. Perplexed, and wondering what that strange bump was the driver of the Silverado put it in first, and drove slowly feeling the bump again, “huh, must be in the road, strange kid,” they muttered to themselves and drove off. As Steph stood out in the road, she watched as the Chevrolet logo across the tailgate shrunk in the distance. Tears turned to anger and in that moment they vowed their revenge.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Are these new windmills connected to the grid? If not, and they supply GM facilities direct, I hope that GM has backup for calm days. Because no power will be available, so they might as well send the workforce home for a barbecue. Right there the plan pitches face forward into the dust.

    50 MW is a peak power, not a measure of energy which is power times time. So all that GM is buying is access to power – how long it’s sustained is another matter entirely.

    Since the average dolt thinks electrons move around a circuit in AC, and somehow thinks that a hydro-generator or these windmills can “direct” AC power to a certain place, because magic, grasping outfits like GM in Texas or BMW with its carbon fiber factory in Washington state can state a big lie and expect people to believe it. The public is not as bright as people think.

    If the GM facilities are in any way connected to the grid, there is no way they can only receive power from the windmills also connected to the grid. It’s not possible. Every power source connected to the grid contributes. Buy your next vehicle from people who don’t understand the electrical basics if you want. I won’t. This is pure PR greenwashing.

    Ask any electrical utility engineer whether I’m correct. I was one myself. The current thing is for Greenies to run round bleating about the cheap power from windmills and how we should all change to build only them, oblivious of things like peak load, load factor, weather and wind. It’s what an Arts or Humanities or a PR degree brings to the technical table – a profound lack of understanding or knowledge, plus an inability to understand what it is they DON’T understand.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      It’s not really that complex. GM buys overpriced green power and feeds it into the grid. They don’t pretend to use that specific electricity that was generated by the solar facility, they just take credit for feeding “green energy” into the grid.

      But you’re right – the big problem with most green sources is that they are not predictable/callable on demand. Thus the demand for storage – cheap batteries are the next big part of the problem that needs to be solved.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        deanst, Texas has added lots of new natural gas power plants that can respond fairly rapidly to changes in demand and fluctuations in wind output. However, natural gas plants shut down if there is a pipeline problem while coal power plants can have energy stored as a big pile of coal by the power plant. Some of the old lignite coal power plants had the coal mine and the power plant adjacent to each other which made those plants immune to disruptions due to rail problems.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      >It’s what an Arts or Humanities […] degree brings to the technical table – a profound lack of understanding or knowledge, plus an inability to understand what it is they DON’T understand.

      Technical writer here: I resent that remark. Or is it “resemble”?

      Either way, maybe don’t paint with so broad a brush in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      0Gravity

      GM’s mostly doing it because it’s a good deal, not because they care that much about the PR. Of course the wind turbines are connected to the grid. A synthetic power purchase agreement allows GM to buy from the wholesale ERCOT power grid and lock in low prices from wind power. Wind is Texas is the cheapest form of electricity and it doesn’t need backups because the wholesale power market smooths that out through multiple generation sources all selling into the grid at the same time. Looks up Lazard’s Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy to see how wind compares to coal and nat gas. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-2017/

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    Just wondering how you expect the people with boats and camping trailers or large families to get around?

    Oh, and let’s not forget that the BOF Tahoe is only 2mpg’s less than the unit body Honda Pilot, and look at the performance and utility superiority of the Tahoe.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    It’s my experience that people who jab at these vehicles cannot afford what it takes to fill their gas tank-let alone buy one……

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Who gives a rat’s patootie if the generation is fed into the same grid that GM feeds from, or directly into the plant? It makes little or no difference. Assuming the grid isn’t an inadequately-updated engineering train wreck (hello, Path 13 during the great Enron California Energy Crisis of 2000-1!), electricity is pretty fungible, so cleaner is cleaner is cleaner.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      This. Exactly this.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      HotPotato, the Arlington plant is on the Texas grid ERCOT which is a separate intra-state power grid within Texas with natural gas, coal, wind, nuclear, etc. power generation connected to it. It has had some recent upgrades to carry power from sparsely populated areas in West Texas with lots of wind to population centers hundreds of miles to the east.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        It’s been a lot of years since I’ve explored the Arlington plant, but I thought it had its own power plant. Natural gas powered. That was years ago and maybe they got rid of them.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    P.S. Literally ANY other energy source, including Wyoming coal, is a massive cleanliness upgrade from Texas lignite, which is basically explosive dust that wafts a thick airborne layer of waste over your truck, your livestock, and your lungs. To go from lignite to wind power…that’s pretty nifty.

  • avatar
    chris724

    “50 MW of it per year.”

    This is a rate of change of power. Maybe it should be 50 MWh per year?

    • 0 avatar
      barryfaetheus

      ““50 MW of it per year.”

      This is a rate of change of power. Maybe it should be 50 MWh per year?”

      I see this all the time in articles. How hard can it be? MW is an instantaneous unit of power, where time has been factored out. MWh is a unit of energy. MW/year is indeed a rate of change. Pet peeve of mine as an engineer.

    • 0 avatar
      0Gravity

      Good catch. It’s going to be the megawatt hour (MWh) output from the 50 MW nameplate capacity. Not sure the exact calculations, but factor in 8760 hours per year, average annual capacity factors, likely around 45% in that area of Texas (high winds), and you’ll get XXXX MWhs per year

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        Again, the plate rating is 148MW. That is the power rating – the rate of generating energy. It is not energy. Energy is how much power you get over time at an the average efficiency of power generation. For wind, that number is 30% or less. The Euros get half that efficiency if industry sources are to be believed. So 50MW is a likely upper bound on average power generation for this facility. GM can announce that they are committed to 50MW over the total number of hours they need it for their plant. Electricity is fungible, as others have mentioned, so this is not a PR stunt.

        • 0 avatar
          0Gravity

          You are correct about nameplate rating but not capacity factors. Yes, the 148 MW total plant, or 50 MW allocation for GM doesn’t tell us very much about how much power will be produced. But 30% capacity factors are very old news from turbines 10+ years ago. Turbines installed today, especially in Texas, are averaging 45%, often more. That’s why levelized cost of energy from wind is now cheaper in the US than all other forms of power generation. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-2017/

  • avatar
    George B

    Steph, use of lignite coal for power generation has declined in recent years in Texas while use of natural gas greatly increased as gas prices went down. The large lignite electric power plant Big Brown shut down earlier this year after 47 years, but it had already used up most of the Lignite from a nearby mine and had been using coal from Wyoming. Monticello also shut down in 2018. The Limestone electric generating station is still in operation, but it quit using lignite a few years ago. The enormous Martin Lake power plant appears to still use lignite.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_power_stations_in_Texas

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    These are thoroughly modern vehicles. How exactly are they dinosaurs?

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Because they use architecture that’s long since been abandoned by the traditional passenger car market. “Dinosaur” is almost always used pejoratively (it is here), but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    Interesting how an article about green power appears at the same time that this site is assiduously avoiding mention of the U.N. climate change report. An implicit admission that the readers are not capable of understanding basic science or are too narcissistic to care about what lies ahead. The billions of gallons of gasoline that Americans unnecessarily burn at the rate of one ton of CO2 for every 100 gallons of gasoline consumed constitutes a major portion of the billion tons a year reduction requested in the report. Of course their special needs trump the consequences that everyone on the earth will bear in the years ahead.

  • avatar

    Carbon dioxide – the gas of life, plant food – is not air pollution.

    Climate change is not man made – even the UN admits that if you dig far enough in the right places. This agenda is about power and control over Western Civilization. Period.

    The real climate change is happening before our eyes as we pass between solar cycles and live thru a period with no sunspots. IOW, global COOLING that has nothing to do with human activity.

    The “greenwashed” headline is snarky on its face. I happen to like my full-size GM BOF SUV and plan to buy another when I’m done driving this one – currently at 215,000 miles.

    All this said, there’s nothing wrong with renewables so long as their place is understood. Having an “all of the above” energy strategy is the best route to sustainable energy independence at affordable prices.


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