Newspaper article International New York Times

Employees Get Discounts for Use of Solar Energy ; Several Companies Offer Their Workers Access to Cheaper Home Systems

Newspaper article International New York Times

Employees Get Discounts for Use of Solar Energy ; Several Companies Offer Their Workers Access to Cheaper Home Systems

Article excerpt

Employees of several major companies will be able to buy or lease solar systems for their homes at rates substantially lower than the national average.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Expanding the notion of corporate benefits beyond discounted health club memberships and low insurance rates, a group of major companies is set to offer employees access to cheaper solar systems for the home.

Under an arrangement announced Wednesday, employees of the companies -- Cisco Systems, 3M, Kimberly-Clark and National Geographic -- will be able to buy or lease solar systems for their homes at rates substantially lower than the national average, executives said. The program, offered through Geostellar, an online marketer of solar systems, will be available to more than 100,000 employees and will include options for their friends and families in the United States and parts of Canada.

Conceived at the World Wildlife Fund, the program, called the Solar Community Initiative, aims to use the bulk buying power of employees to allow for discounts on home systems.

The program's expansion is a reflection of the shrinking gulf between camps that were once considered mutually exclusive: environmental advocacy organizations and mainstream corporate America.

"Our objective was to make this as simple and cheap as possible," said Keya Chatterjee, senior director for renewable energy at the World Wildlife Fund. After receiving discounts through a group program for employees last year, officials at the environmental group approached a few of their corporate partners, she said.

The program is consistent with the group's approach of working closely with corporations, often quietly trying to nudge them toward change from the inside, rather than pushing from the outside through more confrontational tactics.

That has sometimes earned them criticism from other groups that see them as being too cozy with the very businesses responsible for pollution, but some are pursuing similar paths as climate advocates grapple with how best to engage powerful, moneyed interests in achieving their goals.

Increasingly, said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer- Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University, groups are working with businesses to influence not only energy policy but also the markets, which dovetails with a growing corporate focus on clean technologies.

"In the old days there wasn't a big alliance to build around solar energy because it was such an infinitesimal part of the energy picture and prices were so high," Mr. …

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