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Target passes Walmart as top corporate solar customer

Target has surpassed perennial champion Walmart as the U.S.'s top corporate user of solar power, according to a new report.

Target has installed 147 megawatts (million watts or MW) of solar capacity on 300 stores, according to the 2016 Solar Means Business Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

"We're incredibly proud of the progress we've made in improving building efficiencies and reducing environmental impact. Our commitment to installing solar panels on 500 stores and distribution centers by 2020 is evidence of that progress," John Leisen, vice president of property management at Target, said in the SEIA statement.

Walmart had held the top spot for the previous four years and still claims second place with 145MW of solar power installed on 364 buildings, according to the SEIA, which has been tracking corporate solar deployments for the past five years.

This year, real estate developer Prologis came in third with 107.8MW of solar. Apple, which is in fourth place with 93.9MW of installed solar power, is a likely contender for first place sometime next year.

Last year, Apple announced it was investing $850 million in a solar power plant through a partnership with First Solar, one of the nation's largest photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers and provider of utility-scale PV plants.

Through a 25-year purchasing agreement, Apple will get 130MW from the new California Flats Solar Project. The project is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Other Top 10 companies recognized in the SEIA's report include Costco (50.7 MW), Kohl's (50.2 MW), IKEA (44 MW), Macy's (38.9 MW), General Growth Properties (30.2 MW) and Hartz Mountain Industries (22.7 MW).

While IKEA is in seventh place, it powers 91% of its retail locations through solar, according to the SEIA.

Overall, U.S. corporations have doubled their solar installations year over year and are expected to close out 2016 with nearly 280MW of solar power -- compared to 130MW in 2015.

The SEIA's report covers corporate solar installations in 38 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico; it tracks almost 1,100MW of solar installations at 2,000 U.S. companies.

"To put that in context, that's enough electricity to power the equivalent of 193,000 homes every year," the report stated. "Also noteworthy, in just the first three quarters of 2016, the report found 142MW of corporate solar was added in the U.S., more than was installed in all of 2015 (129 MW)."

In 2014, frustrated by a lack of renewable energy and a purchasing system that's too complicated, major U.S. companies joined an initiative to force the government and utilities to change.

Along with the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute, the corporations signed a pact supporting six principles to clearly identify what's needed when purchasing renewable energy.

The initial companies included Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, Sprint and Walmart.

The companies called for six specific changes they wanted the energy industry to adopt to increase renewable energy use:

  • Greater choice in procurement options
  • More access to cost competitive options
  • Longer- and variable-term contracts
  • Access to new projects that reduce emissions
  • Streamlined third-party financing Increased purchasing options with utilities

"Solar plays a vital role within our renewable energy portfolio," Mark Vanderhelm, vice president of energy for Walmart, said in a statement. "This is evident by our 2020 commitment of doubling solar energy projects at our Walmart stores, Sam's Clubs and distribution centers across the nation. Our focus is on finding those solar projects that are right for the business."

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