Walmart is an environmental disaster, despite its claim to be moving toward renewable energy. But Walmart's majority stockholders, the Walton family, are going above and beyond, actively working against rooftop solar power, according to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The Waltons' anti-solar efforts fall into two categories. Since 2010, they've given at least $4.5 million in donations to organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity that are trying to weaken clean energy policies at the state level. These donations are part of a widespread corporate attack on policies that allow homeowners to use rooftop solar panels not just to power their own houses, but to sell excess solar power to utility companies. These utility companies might not be against solar power, but they're definitely against losing business to household-level solar. The logic is a familiar one:
... beneath the [Walton] family’s public embrace of environmentalism lies a deeper agenda: furthering the highly concentrated corporate economic model that has generated so much wealth for so few, often at extraordinary cost to both the environment and working people. The Waltons’ environmentalism is best understood not as a curious counterpoint to this imperative, but rather as a tool in service to it.
They put that into very direct action with a solar company, First Solar. Yes, the Walmart Waltons own a solar company. But! First Solar doesn't build solar for households. It builds utility-scale solar arrays, which means its interests are fully aligned with utility companies. Really aligned:
In June 2013, Walton-owned First Solar sent shockwaves through the solar
industry when its CEO, James Hughes, published an op-ed in the Arizona Republic endorsing a proposal by the state’s biggest utility to impose a new fee on households with rooftop solar. Averaging about $50 to $100 a month, the proposed fee would be large enough to completely destroy the economics of household energy production, halting the spread of residential rooftop solar in Arizona. As the rest of the solar industry closed ranks and joined with environmental and consumer groups in opposing the plan, First Solar backed the utility, insisting that it was right to maximize its financial position. Bryan Miller, a vice president at Sunrun and president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, put First Solar’s actions in perspective: “No solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar.”
The fee eventually imposed was much smaller than the proposed $50 to $100 a month, but nonetheless, it had its intended effect:
Residential installations have since declined by 40 percent, protecting APS, which produces most of its electricity from coal, nuclear, and gas, from competition. Arizona, once a leader in solar job creation, is now one of only five states in the country
where the number of solar jobs is actually declining.
The organizations the Waltons contributed that $4.5 million to are working to push similar policies in states across the country.