Walmart has taken a seemingly contradictory position on solar energy. On the one hand, by the end of 2013, it led the US for commercial solar capacity with 89 megawatts installed, nearly doubling the #2 on the list, Costco.
On the other hand, a report that came out in October by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, blasted the Walton family (heirs and majority owners of the company) for trying to stymie the growth of rooftop solar.
The report’s author, Stacy Mitchell, cites $4.5 million that the Walton Family Foundation gave between 2010 and 2013 to fund groups working against renewable energy policies.
For example, the foundation gave $800,000 to the conservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute, which has argued that “states should repeal clean energy policies and instead provide more support for oil and gas,” the report says.
Another recipient was Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-founded group that has “arguably done more than any other organization to block action on climate and thwart the spread of clean energy,” Mitchell wrote.
Aside from supporting anti-renewable energy groups, the Walton family also owns a 30 percent stake in Arizona-based First Solar, which develops utility-scale solar arrays. At first blush, this may seem pro-renewable energy, but Mitchell reports that First Solar, in support of the utility company Arizona Public Service, worked to support the authorization of a fee on individuals in Arizona with their own rooftop solar panels. The fee cuts into the cost savings of individuals while benefitting the utility company. The outcome has been fewer rooftop solar panels.
Why would a solar company support a fee that discourages the installation of solar panels? According to VICE News, First Solar competes in utility-scale solar projects, not rooftop projects, and rooftop solar could cut into the company’s bottom line.
Tim McDonnell summed it up nicely in his article on Mother Jones: “Walmart loves solar power—as long as it’s on their roof and not yours.”