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Going solar in a big way

Equipment for the installation of 1,232 solar panels is lifted by crane to the roof of Walmart on Tuesday morning.
Equipment for the installation of 1,232 solar panels is lifted by crane to the roof of Walmart on Tuesday morning. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
A store in often-gray Crescent City may seem like an unlikely candidate for large-scale solar power, but Walmart hopes to make it work.

Cranes hoisted 1,232 solar panels to the roof of the local store Tuesday. Installing them will take about four weeks, said store manager Nick Gonnella. The company’s goal is to have from 5 to 35 percent of the store’s annual energy costs reduced by solar energy, he said. 

“Utility expenses are pretty expensive,” Gonnella said on Wednesday, his face sporting a rosy hue — the first sunburn he’s received since relocating to Del Norte County. “Just cutting (our costs) by 20 percent, if that ends up being what it is, is a huge benefit to the store.”

Walmart plans to install solar panels on more than 100 California stores this year, Gonnella said. This adds to the 100 rooftop solar installations it already installed at stores in Arizona, California and Ohio, as well as a 1-megawatt utility-scale wind turbine at a distribution center in California, according to a corporate press release. 

The corporation’s goal is to produce or procure 7 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually, according to the release, and to reduce the energy needed to power its buildings by 20 percent by 2020.

“This is really one of our corporate initiatives among other sustainability projects,” Gonnella said. “Our goal as a company is to get to the point where we produce zero waste.”

Walmart also recycles cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam and has partnered with vendors to produce household chemicals and detergents in smaller containers, Gonnella said.

When installation is complete in Crescent City, the solar panels will be capable of producing 295.68 kilowatts, said Evan Ramsey of SolarCity, which is contracted with Walmart to install the rooftop solar panels. Ramsey said he and other SolarCity workers will spend the next four weeks or so assembling the rafters, attaching the panels and screwing them into place.

Walmart officials estimate the solar panels will decrease the store’s energy costs by 5–35 percent.
Walmart officials estimate the solar panels will decrease the store’s energy costs by 5–35 percent. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Walmart’s solar system is tied to the power grid, which means that if it generates more power than the store can use, it will be put back into the grid and the store will get credit for that extra energy, Ramsey said. On not-so-sunny days, Walmart will get its electricity from the traditional source, Pacific Power.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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