Report Says Walmart Owners Undercut Solar Growth

first_imgHelping to fund an “attack on clean energy”In Arizona, Mitchell said, the Walton family helped support successful efforts by the state’s largest electric utility to impose new fees on homeowners who own their own PV system through a company it owns called First Solar.First Solar backed Arizona Public Service (APS) even though it’s in the business of installing utility-scale solar systems because its “interests are closely aligned with those of utilities,” the report said.“First Solar played a pivotal role in helping APS win in Arizona,” Mitchell said. “As the rest of the solar industry closed ranks and joined with environmental and consumer groups in opposing the fees, First Solar backed the utility.”“Although imposing fees on rooftop systems slows the overall growth of solar, doing so benefits First Solar by reducing competition and ensuring that what solar expansion does occur is concentrated in the utility-scale segment of the market,” the report said.New residential solar installations declined after the fees were imposed. Mitchell said First Solar was now intervening in a regulatory fight over fees on residential PV fees in Nevada, and was studying the issue in California as well. The family that owns Walmart, the country’s biggest retailer, has spent millions of dollars to slow the growth of residential photovoltaic (PV) systems while making public claims about its commitment to sustainability, a non-profit research organization said in a report published this month.Writing for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, senior researcher Stacy Mitchell said the Walton family has donated $4.5 million in the last four years to groups that are working to limit the spread of small-scale residential PV arrays (“rooftop solar”). The money went to groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute, which have been spearheading efforts at the state level to discourage renewable energy policies. (For more information on efforts by the American Legislative Exchange Council to oppose net-metering contracts for owners of PV systems, see Putting the Squeeze on Renewable Energy.)Her report, “How the Walton Family is Threatening Our Clean Energy Future,” makes a number of claims that will be familiar to anyone following the ongoing clash between electric utilities and renewable energy advocates.“Rooftop solar is contentious because it’s revolutionizing who owns and profits from electricity generation,” she wrote. “It’s moving the U.S. from a system in which electricity generation is controlled by a small number of investor-owned utilities and toward a future in which households produce energy and reap the financial benefits.” Environmental claims inflatedMitchell also takes aim at the Waltons’ public embrace of environmental causes. She notes that after a 2005 speech by Lee Scott, then Walmart’s CEO, the family began donating to environmental causes, but the support is essentially window dressing for the family’s desire to make more money.The company promised to switch entirely to renewable energy, Mitchell said, but nine years later it derives just 3% of its electricity from wind and solar sources and “lags far behind other retailers in moving to renewable energy.”“While Walmart has made modest improvements in such things as store lighting efficiency, it has refused to rethink any of the core aspects of its business model, no matter how destructive,” she wrote. “In tallying its climate footprint, for example, Walmart ignores the massive volume of greenhouse gas pollution it generates shipping goods from far-flung factories.”The family also has made political contributions to politicians “who oppose regulations of any kind, including proposals to address global warming and otherwise curb pollution,” the report said.Green Building Advisor has asked both the Walton Family Foundation and WalMart Stores Inc. for comment and will update this post accordingly.last_img