Episode Description

In this episode, Host Cortney Piper interviews Monica Walker, Manager of Renewables & Energy Strategy at General Motors.

GM has a bold vision for the future. One with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. Piper and Walker discuss GM’s renewable energy commitments, electric vehicle charging partnership with the Pilot Company and Spring Hill Manufacturing facility operations. They also cover how GM was an early adopter of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Invest program.

Learn more about TAEBC and GM.

Thank you to our podcast sponsor, FirstBank.

Episode Transcript

Cortney Piper: Welcome to Energizing Tennessee, powered by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and FirstBank. We’re your number-one podcast for news about Tennessee’s advanced energy sector. I’m your host, Cortney Piper.

Welcome back to Energizing Tennessee, powered by TAEBC and FirstBank. Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Monica Walker, Manager of Renewables and Energy Strategy at General Motors. Now, GM has a bold vision for the future, one with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion. During this episode, we focused on zero emissions.

We discussed GM’s four-pillar approach to its renewable energy commitments. The Spring Hill Manufacturing Facility and how they were an early adopter of TVA’s Green Invest program. For listeners who have been with us for a while, you might remember episode five. That’s when we spoke with Tim Landenkamp, VP of Business Development and Sustainability at Pilot Company, about their partnership with GM to build an EV charging network.

It was great to talk to Monica about where this partnership is more than a year later. And if you haven’t tuned into episode five, Go back and listen now. And as always, if you like what you hear, subscribe to our channel, and don’t forget to leave a rating or review. It helps us reach a wider audience to champion Tennessee’s advanced energy sector.

Energizing Tennessee would not be possible without the support of TAEBC members and our sponsor, FirstBank. To learn more about FirstBank and how they can support you or your business, visit FirstBankonline.com.

Today, I am pleased to welcome Monica Walker to the show. She is the Manager of Renewables and Energy Strategy at General Motors. Thanks for being here, Monica.

Monica Walker: Thanks for inviting me. It’s great to be here, Cortney. I’m excited to be on today.

Cortney Piper: First, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? And how you ended up at GM?

Monica Walker: Yeah, I’d be happy to. So, I’ve been with GM for almost eight years now. I grew up in Michigan. My background is in environmental engineering, so I started with GM right out of college, and I was supporting our operations in Flint with their environmental engineering activities.

My passion is really in manufacturing and supporting our facilities. And a couple of years back, I was able to transition to our energy team, so now I manage our renewables and energy strategy team. So, we focus on our renewable energy agreements to power our facilities.

Cortney Piper: One of the great things about Tennessee’s automotive sector growing is I get to talk to a lot of Michiganders because I am from Michigan.

So it’s always a pleasure. Always a pleasure. Monica, talk to us a little bit more about GM’s commitment to achieving 100% renewable energy in the U.S. In your U.S. Operations by 2025 and globally by 2035. I imagine that you stay very busy. So, tell our listeners about what GM’s carbon-free energy transition looks like.

Monica Walker: Definitely busy. Yeah, so like you mentioned, you know, we have really ambitious renewable energy goals, and we kind of follow this four-pillar approach to work towards those goals. So the first one is reducing overall energy use at our facilities. So making investments in more efficient equipment and processes at our facilities so that’s energy we don’t have to use down the line.

The second one is sourcing renewable energy, so that’s primarily been through power purchase agreements or green tariff agreements with the utility to actually power our facilities with renewables.

The third one relates more to resiliency and reliability of our operations, so what are we doing to mitigate against gaps in supplies of renewable energy for electricity transmission? And then the last pillar relates more to policy advocacy, so working closely with our global public policy team and external organizations to advocate for things to help drive down costs of renewable energy and increase access through policies that support reliable, affordable, carbon-free energy system.

Outside the U.S., you mentioned this earlier, but our U.S. Goal is 100% by 2025, and we’re coming around the corner to that goal and have secured enough. renewable energy to meet that goal, so now we’re looking outside the U.S. In the regions where we have our facilities located to see how we can make progress in those areas.

That would be Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Korea. So, for example, in Brazil, we just secured a couple of additional supply agreements. To add additional renewable energy assets to the grid, which are going to power our facilities down there with clean energy. Also looking at our sites in Mexico and migrating those to the wholesale market to be able to secure renewable energy assets for those facilities too and then beyond that, like I mentioned earlier, one of our main strategies as part of our renewable energy work is policy engagement. So, in areas where it’s more difficult for corporations to procure clean energy. We work with partners in those regions to advocate for more legislation or regulation that allows corporations to purchase clean energy.

Cortney Piper: Excellent, and we are so glad to have you all in Tennessee. So let’s talk about the GM’s operations in Tennessee at the Spring Hill manufacturing plant. It’s the largest GM facility in North America, and it’s been an operation since the early ’90s. and GM assembles Cadillac’s all-electric LYRIQ at Spring Hill.

I got a chance to sit in one this summer. It was awesome. And the first one rolled off the line in 2022. So, what updates can you share about GM’s commitment to EVs and any other news that you would like to share?

Monica Walker: Well, I’m glad you got to sit in one. They’re very cool vehicles. So GM is committed to an all-electric future.

So right now what we’re doing is really focusing on expanding our EV lineup to meet the needs of more and more customers. So we have a number of brands working through that right now, Cadillac, Chevy, GMC. And so feel free to check out any of those brand websites for more information about the EVs, but it’s really about enabling a variety of options to meet different customer needs.

Cortney Piper: What about employee programs, charging at work, and that sort of thing?

Monica Walker: Definitely. Yeah. So that’s actually another component of what my team manages is our workplace charging program. In addition to being able to provide access for home charging, we want to make sure that our employees have the option to charge at work.

A lot of folks maybe don’t have home charging if they live in multifamily housing, for example. So, it really supplements their charging needs in addition to the growing public charging network.

Cortney Piper: Great. Okay. We now know that GM was an early adopter of TVA’s Green Invest Program, signing on to solar power for Spring Hill and the Bowling Green facility.

So, tell us a little bit more about this project and GM’s relationship with TVA.

Monica Walker: We’ve been long time customers of TVA, so they currently serve us at our Spring Hill Assembly Plant as well as the Bowling Green Assembly Plant, like you mentioned, that one’s down in Kentucky where we make the Corvettes.

And so, we participate in TVA’s Green Invest Program. So Spring Hill will be powered with 100 MW of solar power from an asset close by in Mississippi. Then, Bowling Green will be powered with 28 MW of solar energy from an asset in Logan County, Kentucky.

So, both of those are going to be coming online later this summer, and I’m really excited to see them once they do. And so, what we really like about that program is that it sources renewable energy from a source local to the facility. So, it was great working with TVA on those programs.

Cortney Piper: Great. Now, this podcast is called Energizing Tennessee, but I can imagine that there might be other really interesting renewable or energy efficiency projects that you guys have done across the country. Is there anything else that you’d like to highlight at one of your other facilities?

Monica Walker: Definitely. Yeah, we have a number of agreements, like I mentioned, both green tariffs and PPAs. We love to be able to work with our local utility when possible. So, for example, I’m here in Michigan, sitting at our Warren Tech Center facility, which is served by DTE. So, we have an agreement with DTE as part of their green tariff program that supplies localized renewable energy to our facilities in DTE’s region.

But then we also have a number of power purchase agreements that we’re really proud of as well. Most recently, our biggest one just came online in Arkansas. It’s a 180 MW solar farm in Newport. So very excited about that one as well.

Cortney Piper: It sounds like GM prioritizes renewable energy assets that are local to your facility.

So, can you talk a little bit more about that? Is that pretty unique? Is it standard operating procedure? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Monica Walker: Yeah, so we think of a number of things when we evaluate where we want to make an investment in a renewable energy asset. What we really like to do is approach the local utility and if they don’t already have a green tariff program, work to see if it would be possible to create one.

And then that way we’re able to supply localized clean energy to our facilities. Beyond that, we also work with developers on power purchase agreements. And so, again, those are areas where we really try and source our energy in the same grid that the facility is located in order to have a more impactful approach to our procurement strategy.

Cortney Piper: And, you know, this all makes me think about why is it so important for GM to incorporate renewable energy? Why is it important for GM to use 100% renewable energy in its operations and set clear goals to get there?

Monica Walker: It really all rolls up to our vision. So we have, our company vision is a future with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.

And so what I really like about working for GM is, right from the very top zero emissions is in the company vision. And so everything that we do rolls directly up to that vision. And we’re really supported with these initiatives throughout every level of the company.

And so as we make this transition to an all-electric future, it’s really important that we have these renewable assets available to transition the grid to 100% clean energy.

Cortney Piper: That’s great. Now, in a previous episode, we spoke with Tim Landenkamp. He’s the VP of business development and sustainability at Pilot Company about their partnership with GM to build out the nation’s EV charging stations. And in December you announced the opening of the first 17 locations in this network and how you’ll have at least 25 locations offering 100 charging stalls by the end of the year. I mean, that’s pretty big news. So tell me more about this partnership. Why you all started it, and any updates you would like to share?

Monica Walker: You know, we’re really excited about this collaboration. So we’ve been working with Pilot Company and EVgo to really expand coast-to-coast EV fast charging. So, like you mentioned what we’re doing is the collaboration involves adding fast chargers at Pilot Flying J Travel Centers across the U.S. And we now have 25 locations open and have now planned to have 200 by the end of 2024. So that’s over 2,000 DC fast charging stalls planned throughout the U.S. to help enable long-distance EV travel.

Cortney Piper: Okay, great. Monica, we are absolutely thrilled to have General Motors in the state of Tennessee.

Even more thrilled that we are part of you all reaching that 100% renewable goal and the zero emissions goal with having the LYRIQ assembled in Tennessee. So we want to thank you for investing in us, and we’re just so proud and happy to have you all here. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners today?

Monica Walker: Well, thank you so much for having me. We have a lot of other fantastic initiatives going on too that I didn’t touch on. So if you want to check out anything else about our work, you can head over to gmsustainability.com to learn more.

Cortney Piper: Great. Well, Monica Walker, Manager of Renewables and Energy Strategy at General Motors, thanks for coming on the show.

Tell our listeners again where they can learn more about you and your work.

Monica Walker: Check out gmsustainability.com to learn more.

Cortney Piper: All right. Thank you, Monica.

Monica Walker: Thanks, Cortney.

Cortney Piper: And that’s our show. Thanks for tuning into Energizing Tennessee, powered by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and FirstBank.

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