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Wal-Mart sees green lining in solar power

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to double the number of solar energy projects at its stores and distribution centers in the U.S. by 2020.

The world’s largest retailer expects to save as much as a $1 billion a year in energy costs after it meets the 2020 goal for installing solar panels at its Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores and distribution centers. The company eventually wants to power all of its operations with renewable energy.

“We know from experience that investing in energy innovation allows us to save money, reduce carbon pollution, and create jobs,” said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S.

The company had more than 300 renewable energy projects operating or under development worldwide at the end of 2013.

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President Barack Obama used a Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, Calif., as a backdrop to announce new steps Friday by companies, local governments and his own administration to deploy solar technology to combat climate change. The store gets about 14.5 percent of its power from solar energy.

Obama said more than 300 companies and state and local governments have pledged to use solar energy. It’s a good move for the country, he said, adding that solar energy is cheaper and easier to use than ever before.

“The commitments we’re announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” Obama said.

Obama also announced executive actions aimed at increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances. The White House said the solar effort will power the equivalent of 130,000 homes and the administrative actions could reduce carbon pollution in an amount equal to taking 80 million cars off the road for one year.

In choosing to make his announcement at a Wal-Mart store Obama triggered a backlash from labor unions and pay equity advocates who say low wages paid by Wal-Mart fly in the face of Obama’s vaunted push on pay equity.

“What numbskull in the White House arranged this?” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said on Facebook.

In promoting the energy efficiency announcement ahead of Friday’s event, the White House said solar energy prices have dropped markedly in four years, with solar panels now costing about 60 percent less. The White House also announced the completion of energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers typically used in grocery stores.

Contributing: The Associated Press