Four of the largest U.S. retailers are betting on the sun in the race to find alternative energy sources. In recent months, Kohl's, Macy's, Target and Wal-Mart each announced plans to spend millions to roll out solar installations this year at dozens of stores, with all looking to California as a testing ground.

Large retailers are “finding that utilizing solar power is easy to do, it helps a company achieve their sustainability goals, and they can achieve immediate and long-term financial benefits with solar,” says Ingrid Ekstrom, a spokeswoman for SunPower Corp., a manufacturer of solar technology that is servicing three of the four chains: Macy's, Target and Wal-Mart.

A big reason why all are starting in California is that a state solar initiative is offering businesses cash subsidies on solar power systems of up to $2.50 per kilowatt. These incentives, combined with federal tax credits, can cover up to 50 percent of the cost of the system and make it extremely competitive with more traditional energy sources.

In California, Kohl's will install solar panels at 23 stores and one distribution center. The company is exploring solar installations for about 40 more locations in California, adds a company spokesperson. Solar-equipped stores will draw about 40 percent of their power from the sun, with the rest coming off the local energy grid. Each store, which average between 68,000 square feet and 88,000 square feet, will support about 2,400 solar panels and generate about 420 kilowatts of solar energy. Kohl's first rooftop solar power systems in California will be ready in August, and its California solar program is set to be finished in 2008.

The newest entrant into California's solar scene is Macy's, which is installing systems at 26 stores throughout the Golden State. Coupled with an energy-saving project that includes upgraded lighting and HVAC systems, Macy's expects its dependence on the power grid at the 26 stores to be reduced by 40 percent, or about 24 million kilowatt-hours annually. In all, with investment in solar costing between $6.50 and $8 per kilowatt, Macy's is investing about $25 million in its solar initiative.

For 15 of the 26 stores, Macy's will buy solar-generated electricity under a deal with SunPower that lets the retailer obtain only the electricity generated at its stores — not the solar power systems themselves — from a third party. For the remaining stores, Macy's will buy the systems outright. Macy's operates 114 stores in California.

Depending on how the pilot works, Macy's will consider whether to expand the program further. “We'd look to expand wherever it makes sense to do it. If the numbers work, certainly it's a very positive thing to do,” says Joe Venne, vice president of energy systems for Macy's West. Venne says the California solar installations — with total generating capacity of 8 megawatts — will begin in July or August and be completed by July 2008. Each of the 140,000- to 360,000-square-foot stores will be equipped with 1,400 to 4,000 solar panels.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is launching a pilot project that will set up solar power at 22 sites in California and Hawaii — Wal-Mart stores, Sam's Club stores and one distribution center. Total solar production from the 22 locations, four in Hawaii and 18 in California, is expected to climb as high as 20 million kilowatt-hours a year. Each system will provide up to 30 percent of the power for a store.

Wal-Mart rival Target has added solar power to four of its stores in California and will add it at 14 more.

GGP Swipes AE

General Growth Properties has partnered with American Express to become the first shopping center developer and management company to offer a line of “Especially for” themed gift cards. American Express Gift Cards Especially for Kids, Especially for Teens and Especially for Birthdays are now available at 10 GGP malls in the United States. This summer more centers will add the themed gift cards to the existing product line. The themed American Express Gift Cards will be offered at malls including Lakeland Square, Lakeland, Fla.; Greenwood Mall, Bowling Green, Ky. and Lynn Haven Mall, Virginia Beach, Va.

Tanger Views Saturn

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers wants to drive customers to its shopping centers this summer with a new Saturn. Until August 5, shoppers can enter to win one of four 2008 Saturn vehicles. The grand prize is valued at $35,000. A runner-up will receive a trip for two to the 2008 Pepsi 400 at the Daytona International Speedway. It includes round-trip airfare, two nights' accommodations and tickets to the race. The sweepstakes' rules and entry forms are available at Tanger's 34 participating centers in the United States. Saturn vehicles will be on display at the shopping centers and select Tanger Centers will host Saturn Test Drive events in July and August as part of the promotion.

DDR's Unveiling

Developer's Diversified Realty will feature the works of artist Romero Britto this fall at 13 of its lifestyle centers across the United States. The traveling sculpture show titled Britto Tours America will reach a new audience while raising money for the Britto Foundation and local arts and education organizations. Britto is a regular in international galleries, private art collections and museums. The tour sponsored by DDR is a novel collaboration for the Brazilian artist. Funds raised will benefit the Britto Foundation, a nonprofit that improves the lives of children around the world. The exhibit is scheduled to begin at the Village at Stone Oak in San Antonio November 9 — 25 and end December 31, 2008 at the Shops in Midtown Miami. Among the stops: Phoenix Spectrum Mall; Town Center Plaza, Leawood, Kan., and Birkdale Village, Huntersville, N.C.

Mall's Scholar Dollars

The Mall at Prince Georges awarded gift cards up to $250 and four free airline tickets from Southwest Airlines to honor roll students in the Prince George's County, Md., school system participating in its Scholar Dollar Program. The initiative is designed to recognize hard work and commitment of local students. It recognizes Prince George's County students that achieve a 3.0 grade point average, are on the Honor Roll, maintain a perfect attendance and/or are considered the most improved scholars during the school year. Last month, during the Scholar Dollar Awards ceremony each qualifying student received a Scholar Dollar Certificate awarding the student and his or her family with up to a 20 percent discount on purchases at participating stores at the Mall at Prince Georges, which is owned by Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.