Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Responsible Retail, Irresponsible Congress

Will this administration's ties to big oil actually halt progress being made by retailers who aim to to reduce their carbon foot print? Hard to believe but, the answer to this question just might be yes if Congress doesn't renew a corporate tax incentive for solar panel projects which will expire on December 31st of this year.

In a post this morning from Cool News/Reveries referencing Stephanie Rosenbloom's article in the New York Times (8/11/08), if Wal-Mart took solar to bright, and installed them in every Sam's Club and Wal-Mart store, "the resulting solar acreage would roughly equal the size of Manhattan, an island of 23 square miles." So far, Wal-Mart has installed solar panels in 17 of its stores and distribution centers and plans for five more are underway.

Here's the problem. Congress, having tied itself in a knot over the issue of offshore oil drilling, has failed to renew the corporate tax incentive for solar panel projects. That means retailers with the best environmental intentions, Wal-Mart included, will get a tax credit for solar projects only if they are completed by December 31st. Safeway's vp of energy operations, George Waidelich, says that's a problem, because nobody wants to risk missing the deadline. "You're talking about millions of dollars," he says.

Big plans are underway from big retail to go solar. Kohl's is installing solar panels in 85 stores, Macy's plans to have installed in 40 store's by year's end, and Safeway is going solar in 23 stores. That said, a kilowatt hour of solar power costs 25-30 cents, versus six cents for coal and nine cents for natural gas. Add to that the cost of installing a solar power system at "$4 million to $6 million for a store the size of a Wal-Mart."

Along with savings from a tax incentive, retailers are banking on a pay out, not only in dollars and cents over time, but also in a boost to their image. We all know that Wal-Mart hopes that their environmental strides will offset the bad press they get for their bad behavior on the human rights front. Analyst Bernard Sosnick, "who has examined Wal-Mart's plans, said the day might come when people can pull their electric cars up to a store and re-charge them with power from the roof or even from wind turbines in the parking lot." Now if only Wal-Mart would pay their employees enough to afford the electric cars...

Time to write your congress person!