Retailers Eye Sun for Energy Savings

by | Aug 12, 2008

safeway_solar.jpgWal-Mart Stores, Kohl’s, Safeway and Macy’s have already installed solar panels on roofs of their retail stores, generating electricity on a large scale. Although fewer than 10 percent of their stores have been outfitted, more are planned – even though it costs more to generate power from solar panels, New York Times reports.

Emerging Energy Research’s senior analyst Reese Tisdale told The New York Times that it costs 6 cents for a kilowatt hour generated by coal; 9 cents a kilowatt hour generated by natural gas; and 25 to 30 cents a kilowatt hour generated by solar panels.

While the solar-panel installation trend is not new, it’s accelerating because retailers are betting solar power will become more competitive due to rising cost of coal and electricity; and especially if new policies limit emissions from coal plants. New financing models have made solar even more attractive.

Most of the efforts are currently in California, New Jersey and Connecticut – states that offer generous incentives- but decision makers say they would like to convert more. However, that depends on government policy because retailers typically rely on tax incentives to offset the costs. That’s another reason why many retailers are rushing to install more renewable energy projects– to beat a Dec. 31 deadline so they can gain tax advantages for these projects.

In the upcoming months, 85 Kohl’s stores will get solar panels on top of its current 43. Another 40 Macy stores will install panels in addition to 18 which already has solar panels on rooftops. Safeway is adding panels to 23 stores, while Wal-mart is planning to add solar panels to five more stores; it currently has 17 store and distribution centers with solar panels.

However, Wal-Mart’s solar-panel installation initiatives, or lack of, became the center of a lawsuit against Yucca Valley recently. The lawsuit claims that despite Wal-Mart’s goal of being 100 percent powered by renewable energy, the company refuses to incorporate solar panels for proposed stores in the California desert. Wal-Mart spokesman denied the allegations.

Other retailers, including REI, Costco, and Target, have jumped on the solar bandwagon.

In addition to the stores themselves, retailers such as Gap and Staples have used solar to power distribution centers.

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