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The New York Times reports on how chains are accelerating their efforts to install solar panels on their flat roofs, in part to cope better with increased energy costs, in part to bolster their environmental credibility, and in part to beat an end-of-year deadline that will give them tax advantages.

“So far, most chains have outfitted fewer than 10 percent of their stores,” the Times writes. “Over the long run, assuming Congress renews a favorable tax provision and more states offer incentives, the chains promise a solar construction program that would ultimately put panels atop almost every big store in the country … Analysts are not sure how much power the rooftop projects could ultimately produce, but they say it could be enough to help shave total electricity demand. In many communities, stores are among the biggest energy users. Depending on location and weather, the solar panels generate 10 to 40 percent of the power a store needs.”

Among the chains cited by the Times are Safeway, Whole Foods, and , of course, Walmart, which has become a leader in the environmental area. “Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, has 17 stores and distribution centers with solar panels in operation or in the testing phase. It plans to add them soon to five more stores. People at the chain are considering a far larger program that would put panels and other renewable technologies at hundreds of stores … If Wal-Mart eventually covered the roofs of all its Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart locations with solar panels, figures from the company show that the resulting solar acreage would roughly equal the size of Manhattan, an island of 23 square miles.”

KC's View:
What is staggering to me is the Times note that Congress has not renewed the tax credit for such solar power installations, letting it get dragged down by the ongoing debate about offshore oil drilling. This strikes me as absurd – they are two different issues, and the government ought to be increasing the tax benefits of experimenting with solar power – as well as wind power and other alternative energy sources – not playing political games.

It also is interesting that most of the development is taking place in three states – California, Connecticut and New Jersey – that off tax incentives. This makes sense…an makes me wonder what is wring with the rest of the states.

Given all the right incentives – businesses do, after all, have to turn a profit and answer to their shareholders – these companies can provide real leadership in this area…leadership that can have an impact on energy consumption in the US, which then has implications for national security and the country’s long-term fiscal health, not to mention reduce the threat of global warming. We have to stop taking baby steps and half-measures, and start encouraging major commitments that can change the world.