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Walmart makes big community solar play

A community solar farm by developer Pivot Energy

A community solar farm developed by Pivot Energy. Photo: Courtesy of Pivot Energy

Retail giant Walmart is investing tens of millions of dollars into community solar projects as part of its broader push to purchase clean electricity.

Why it matters: Walmart's investment can help bring low-cost solar to thousands of households and companies left out of the rest of the solar boom.

Details: Walmart is investing $73 million in 19 solar projects to be developed by Pivot Energy, of which 15 are community solar. In a separate deal, Walmart is investing in 5 community solar projects from developer Reactivate.

  • The total electricity produced by the projects will be enough to power about 13,000 homes and could save $8 million annually on customers' electricity bills, including $6 million in low- and moderate-income communities.
  • The deal with Pivot Energy is a tax equity investment, and Walmart will get the clean energy tax credits.
  • Walmart announced the community solar projects as part of nearly 1 GW of contracts for solar farms across Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Fun fact: Some of the community solar projects will be designed to enable sheep grazing and agriculture production around the panels.

Catch up quick: Walmart announced earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show that it plans to invest in 10 GW of clean energy projects, including 2 GW of new community solar projects.

How it works: Community solar projects enable residents or businesses to subscribe to electricity generated off site, mostly from ground-mounted smaller solar projects.

Yes, but: They have faced headwinds in recent years because the interconnection queues blocking the renewable industry have been particularly difficult for smaller projects.

By the numbers: Still, community solar is growing.

  • The number of community solar projects in the U.S. grew by 3% year over year between 2022 and 2023, according to Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association.
  • The researchers predict the sector will grow by 15% over the next year, and will have an average annual growth rate of 7% by 2028.

The big picture: Walmart is part of a growing group of companies, including Google and Microsoft, that are investing in community solar as a way to meet net-zero goals.

  • Community solar projects are also benefiting from the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides tax credits and incentives to support projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

💬 Katie's thought bubble: The ecosystem for companies to buy clean energy to meet net-zero goals has evolved a lot over the last few years, giving the companies a lot more options for how to structure deals and procure renewable electricity.

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