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Nonprofit’s solar system is expected to be a money saver

An Oregon food bank installs a 20.93 kW solar array.

Nonprofit’s solar system is expected to be a money saver

photo of Seth Lucas by Benjamin Brayfield

NATE TRAYLOR
The World

>> click here to view original article

MYRTLE POINT - The Myrtle Point Food Share wants to be a shining example of efficiency.

Taking advantage of a break in the weather Wednesday afternoon, Seth Lucas and Sam Schwarz schlepped solar panels across the food bank's roof and cautiously laid them across racks, positioning them just so.

Lucas: "Hold it."

Schwarz: "Holding."

And with that, Lucas bolted the umpteenth panel into place.

Only about 50 more to go.

Oregon Coast Community Action's food bank solar project will boast one of the largest photovoltaic arrays on the South Coast. Its 20.93 kilowatt-system is even larger than the Coos Bay Visitor Center's.

Myrtle Point Food Share will be one of the few food banks in the state using renewable energy and the only in Coos and Curry counties.

"Oregon Coast Community Action has been looking for ways to lower long-term operating costs," said Shannon Souza of Coos Bay's Sol Coast Consulting and Design.

She designed the project; her husband, Seth Lucas, is installing it.

"Any amount of energy you can produce on site," she said, "that's energy you don't have to purchase in the future."

Cutting costs

Going solar is a pretty progressive step for a nonprofit agency. Patricia Gouveia, ORCCA's director of essential services, says she hopes other organizations will follow ORCCA's lead.

"If our mission is to help low-income people get food, why not do it the most efficient way possible?" Gouveia said.

The project was made possible through a $40,375 grant from Pacific Power's Blue Sky program and a matching grant from Energy Trust of Oregon.

ORCCA's board of directors contributed another $20,000.

"It's not a traditional approach for CAPs (community action programs) to do this."

And Myrtle Point Food Share isn't a traditional pantry. ORCCA renovated an old church at 1320 Maryland Ave. into a shopping-style food bank.

Dignified shopping

It's set up like any grocery with a bank of coolers, giving clients a traditional shopping experience. In other words, the needy aren't handed boxes of food, Gouveia explained.

"Just because you need assistance for food doesn't mean it shouldn't be a dignified process," she said.

Keeping all those appliances humming is costly, which compelled ORCCA to seek an alternative energy source.

The panels are expected to save ORCCA about $1,820 a year. That will amount to about 13,000 more pounds of food annually.

More solar on horizon

ORCCA isn't the only agency looking to the sun for energy solutions.

"Nonprofits have been pursuing solar the most aggressively the past few years," Souza said.

However, nonprofits and government agencies don't directly qualify for those slick tax breaks that businesses and individuals do. That's why Gouveia says the project - valued at about $150,000 - wouldn't have been feasible if not for grants.

Last year, Blue Sky helped fund about 10 renewable energy projects for public and nonprofit facilities throughout the state, including solar panel installations in Coos Bay at the visitor center and fire station.

ORCCA is gearing up for another solar project next month. It recently came into a $1.2 million grant that will outfit apartment complexes and homes with solar panels, trimming energy costs for low-income families.

In coming months, the organization also hopes to break ground on another food bank at Laclair Street and Thomas Avenue, Coos Bay.

It possibly will be powered in part by wind or sun.

"We're looking at all alternatives," Gouveia said.

 
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