Walmart ‘Sustainability’ Reaches New Heights of Absurdity

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Mike Duke photoBack in April some on the Internet tried (and failed) to argue that Walmart had abandoned political correctness – especially with regard to environmental causes – because the company had suffered seven (now eight) straight quarters of same store sales declines. NLPC showed that if anything, Walmart was more committed to “sustainability” than ever.

Those priorities, under CEO Mike Duke (in photo), may have reached absurd new heights last week as the world’s largest retailer announced a partnership with utility giant American Electric Power to give away electricity. That’s right – free electricity! But as you might imagine, there’s a catch.

Turns out you need to possess one of those hard-to-find new electric vehicles produced by General Motors (Chevy Volt) or Nissan (the Leaf). As part of what Walmart calls its “Sustainability 360” initiative, the superstore chain and AEP announced the placement of a plug-in station for the electric cars between a Walmart and Sam’s Club in Easton, Ohio. Unfortunately it appears there is only one privileged soul in the area (other than AEP and those who drive its test vehicles) who can take advantage of the deal: a solar company CEO named Greg Kuss who had to go all the way to Michigan to find his Volt. And even with that, if his Volt is electrically empty, Kuss would have to browse Walmart or Sam’s for four hours before his power meter will read “full.”

All this inefficiency and waste doesn’t happen without taxpayers subsidizing it, of course. The charging station itself cost $3,000, and the total project (including landscaping changes and site redesign) cost $13,000, but it’s all covered by a grant from the federal government. According to AEP the electricity is being provided free as “a loss leader” to help the company gather data about customers’ charging habits.

The biggest beneficiary of taxpayers’ unwilling largess is a company called Ecotality, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.  According to a recent report in The Oregonian, the company’s charging station project is backed by $115 million in federal grants. The plan is to place more than 15,000 charging stations in 16 cities nationwide, including in residences. Volt and Leaf owners, in addition to the $7,500 tax credit on their vehicle purchases, get their own residential charging station for free as well – a $1,200 value.

Showing government knows how to pick a loser, Ecotality had a net loss of $12.5 million through the third quarter of last year, which followed losses of $29.5 million in 2009 and more than $8 million in 2008. So obviously “sustainability” has nothing to do with smart economics: the cars are sold at a loss; the charging stations are given away; the electricity is given away at a loss; and Walmart apparently allows its property to be used for nothing in return.

As I wrote for American Spectator in March: 

In practical terms the government is massively subsidizing an inefficient, wasteful project. It takes 7 hours on a special 240-volt charger to maximize a Nissan Leaf battery. It will go 100 miles on a charge in perfect atmospheric conditions, if you've stored it in climatically ideal garage. But only goes 70 miles on a hot summer day, and less if you run its heater in the winter. And you need an assessment of your home's electrical system to determine whether it can handle the charger.

For its part, Walmart has a number energy efficiency goals (a good thing, if it is also economically efficient) in its “Sustainability 360” initiative, including a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2012 at its existing facilities around the world, and to be 100 percent supplied by renewable energy…someday. The company boasts of its use of solar power in California and Hawaii, and wind energy in Texas. If only Walmart could understand that wind power is dirtier than coal or natural gas, as American Tradition Institute’s lawsuit against the State of Colorado illustrates.

Not to mention a study that shows electric cars can create higher emissions over the car’s lifetime than their gasoline-powered equivalent, partly due to the pollution created from the factories that manufacture electric car batteries.” And in another example of Walmart giving more attention to environmental (in)correctness rather than to facts, its electricity partner in the Green car initiative – AEP – generates 88 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels (66 percent is from coal). Still, Walmart’s director of energy David Ozment says the company plans more charging stations.

As same store sales drop, maybe one day the evidence will be overwhelming enough for Walmart executives to realize their priorities are in the wrong place.

Paul Chesser is associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and is executive director of American Tradition Institute.

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