Report highlights potential for solar energy on big box stores

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But advocates warn inaction by state leaders threatens to stall solar growth

Environment Massachusetts

Click here to download Solar on Superstores: How the Roofs of Big Box Stores Can Help America Shift to Clean Energy.

Boston – As the obstacles facing Massachusetts’ solar industry continue to mount, Environment Massachusetts released a report today showing tremendous potential for solar installations on “big box” retailers, grocery stores, and shopping centers.

Environment Massachusetts urged state officials to expand opportunities for solar, and called on one of the nation’s largest retailers, Target, to ramp up its solar efforts.

“To take full advantage of our solar potential, it will take action on all levels — from state officials, local leaders, and businesses,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts. “We’ve seen some progress, but just like Target’s ads say, we ‘expect more,’ especially when there is so much potential to cut pollution, reduce energy waste, and save money.”

The report, Solar on Superstores, analyzes the nation’s 96,000 “big box” retailers, shopping centers, and grocery chains and their capacity for and progress toward rooftop solar. These stores have nearly 4.5 billion square feet of available rooftop space, enough to triple current U.S. solar capacity.

In Massachusetts, big box stores could accommodate enough solar panels to power 108,000 homes with clean energy.

“Business leaders are increasingly choosing to install solar energy systems on their facilities not only to act on climate, but because it makes financial sense,” said Kate Galbo, Policy Coordinator for Climate Action Business Association. “Solar power is a smart way for businesses to reduce their fossil fuel consumption and transition to clean energy.”

The growth of solar energy in Massachusetts is hampered by limits on two key state-level policies.

Nearly a year ago, Massachusetts hit a cap on net metering, which allows solar panel owners to receive fair credit for the energy they provide to the grid. Earlier this month, the state’s solar incentive program, known as solar renewable energy credits or SRECs, reached its capacity and was closed.

The Massachusetts House and Senate have approved separate bills to address the net metering caps, although the House bill would restrict many types of solar installations — including community solar and projects serving low-income communities — by making major cuts to the value of solar credits. A conference committee was appointed to resolve these differences in November but has not yet released a proposal.

“Stand on the rooftop of a Target or other superstore, and you’ll see a perfect spot for solar panels — flat and exposed to the sun,” said Gideon Weissman, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “In our research we found 4 billion square feet of empty roof space in the United States that could be put to good use capturing clean energy.”

The report finds that solar on big box stores would bring major benefits to the environment, electricity consumers, and businesses.

Using existing roof space on all of the nation’s big retail chain stores and shopping centers could nearly triple U.S. solar capacity, reducing climate-warming carbon pollution by 57 million metric tons annually – the same produced in a year by 12 million vehicles.

Producing electricity on rooftops, close to where the electricity will be used, also reduces losses that happen during electricity transmission –  losses which totaled 5 percent of electricity sales in 2012.

Rooftop solar is also good for business. Electricity produced by rooftop panels on all the big box stores and shopping centers analyzed in today’s report could offset enough electricity to save these businesses $167 million annually on their electricity bills in Massachusetts.

“Solar-generated electricity benefits big-box stores by providing a low-cost, long-term energy price hedge that competes with, and in most cases outperforms, traditional power sources.” says Michael Hedges, Director of Business Development for Power Management, a company that provides energy management and sustainability services to businesses and institutions.

Target’s solar potential is second only behind competitor Walmart, which has already installed at least 142 MW of solar energy at 348 locations.

According to the latest data available summarized in the report, Walmart leads the pack in total solar panels already installed, followed by Costco, Kohl’s, and IKEA.

In recent months, companies such as Google, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson have committed to get 100% of their electricity from clean, renewable sources like wind and solar.

The Target chain has 240 million square feet of roof space suitable for solar in North America, with the potential to power 660,000 homes with solar energy. Target has more than 30 locations in Massachusetts.

“Whether you’re looking at big box stores, public buildings, brownfields, or homes and apartment buildings, Massachusetts has plenty of solar potential,” said Hellerstein. “State officials and business leaders should act aggressively to harness this potential.”


Environment Massachusetts is the statewide, citizen-funded advocacy group working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.