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Sam's Club stores highlight solar power

As more retailers warm to solar, some California Sam's Club stores are offering rooftop solar equipment from Borrego Solar Systems and BP Solar.

Urban planners, labor activists, and environmentalists blame Wal-Mart for decimating rural America, exploiting workers, and polluting ecosystems. Some green-business gurus, on the other hand, praise the retail colossus for turning over a new leaf with moves toward sustainability, such as reducing product packaging.

Wal-Mart's latest green turn comes as nine of its Sam's Club stores in Southern California are providing in-store solar power kiosks. Shoppers can look up information about home rooftop installations and get discounts meant to average $500 on solar orders.

Kiosks like this one promoting household solar panels are appearing at Sam's Club stores in southern California.
Kiosks like this one promoting household solar panels are appearing at Sam's Club stores in southern California. Wal-Mart

Sam's Club will offer the deals through photovoltaic panel installer Borrego Solar of San Diego, as well as BP Solar, at its outlets in Corona, Murrieta, Glendora, Ontario, La Habra, Chino, Long Beach, Fountain Valley, and Torrance.

In addition, the stores will showcase home-efficiency products, such as low-flow toilets and LED lightbulbs, and feature live video chats with representatives from appliance makers.

"While homeowners and businesses continue to embrace solar energy at a tremendous rate, this growth is somehow restricted by the relatively limited number of consumers who are exposed to solar in their daily lives," Aaron Hall, Borrego CEO, said in a statement.

Other huge retail chains also have been gearing up to serve as marketplaces for renewable energy products. IKEA reportedly plans to invest $77 million to help launch clean-tech companies, with the goal of selling the resulting goods, such as solar panels.

Home Depot started offering home solar power consultations and installations to shoppers through BP Solar in 2006.

And some retail giants are also increasingly powering their facilities with renewable energy, especially in states like California with attractive clean-energy rebates.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., launched a pilot solar program in the spring of 2007 to provide up to one-third of the electricity for 22 stores. The winning bidders were BP Solar, SunEdison, and PowerLight, part of SunPower.

Other big-box corporations with or planning rooftop solar power at some locations include Whole Foods, Safeway, Target, REI, the North Face, Staples, Macy's, and Kohl's.

The flat, sprawling rooftops of low-slung megastores and strip malls could make relatively easy destinations for solar panels. Southern California Edison in March sparked an effort to install 250 megawatts of panels atop two miles of commercial buildings, powering the equivalent of 162,000 homes.