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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

‘Solar for Good’ Grant Program far Exceeds Expectations

‘Solar for Good’ grant program far exceeds expectations, seeks additional supporters to help Wisconsin nonprofit organizations “go solar”

Demand for a new program of solar energy grants for mission-based nonprofit organizations has far surpassed expectations, according to RENEW Wisconsin, a state-based renewable energy advocacy organization. As a result, the program’s funders and organizers are seeking additional contributors to provide funding for all qualifying nonprofit organizations who applied.

Business owners Cal and Laurie Couillard of Deerfield conceived of and seed-funded the program, called Solar for Good, which was designed and administered by RENEW Wisconsin. (See “Wisconsin Businessman Creates Fund to Help Nonprofits Go Solar” from WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio.)

Solar for Good announced in October that it would award a total of $125,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations and houses of worship to provide them with up to 20% of the cost of installing solar electric systems.

But demand for the grants exceeded organizers’ expectations. When the application period closed on November 13th, 23 organizations across Wisconsin had applied for over $222,000 to support their solar projects, leaving a gap of $97,000 that the program seeks to raise from other donors.

If all of the grant requests were funded, the program would support over 1,100 kilowatts of solar installations worth $2,400,000.

“The initial contribution has the potential to leverage 20 times its original value in solar installations,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin. “The fund was started by a single family, but with the level of interest we’ve seen, the dream is that we would grow this initiative to support all 23 of the projects. If there are other philanthropists out there who care about renewable energy and want to invest in local community organizations, we encourage them to reach out to RENEW Wisconsin and consider donating.”

A diverse group of nonprofit organizations applied for the solar grants, including a food pantry near Madison, an organization that serves homeless veterans in Racine, and several houses of worship including a mosque, a synagogue, and many churches. The applicants were asked to demonstrate their ability to serve social justice, low income, educational, or other mission-driven purposes, as well as demonstrate their ability to raise the remaining funds and educate their memberships and communities about solar energy when the projects are complete.

With solar installation costs falling dramatically and public enthusiasm on the rise, more and more people and businesses have installed solar in recent years, and the program seeks to expand the benefits of solar to not-for-profit organizations. By installing their own solar PV systems, these organizations will be able to generate their own clean, renewable energy, save money on their utility bills, and reinvest the energy cost savings back into their work.

“The idea is that if we can install solar panels on churches and other nonprofits, then all the people that are going there will also see this happening. I want to spread the message that solar is not just green for the environment, it’s green monetarily. You can actually save money doing it. It pays for itself. And I want to get that word out because I don’t think a lot of people know it,” said program founder Cal Couillard.

How to donate
Individuals can learn more and donate at

To make a larger donation, please contact Tyler Huebner at RENEW Wisconsin: or 608-255- 4044 extension 1.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Organic Valley: First Wisconsin Business to Commit to 100% Renewable Power

Photo courtesy Organic Valley
Organic Valley is set to become the largest the largest U.S. food supplier and the first Wisconsin business to go 100% renewably powered. The LaFarge-based dairy cooperative unveiled plans last week to partner with a municipal power supplier to acquire renewable energy credits (RECs) from several solar arrays to be constructed and energized next year.

When the arrays are operational, Organic Valley will be able to supply all of its Wisconsin operations with wind power and solar power generated in the Dairy State. With this announcement, Organic Valley joins a rapidly growing roster of companies that have committed to powering their entire operational footprint with renewable energy. 

“Our future demands bold new thinking about our sources of energy, and there is nothing more natural to a farmer than harnessing the power of the sun and the wind,” said George Siemon, CEO and a founding farmer of Organic Valley. “So our cooperative is committed to achieving 100% renewable power, and doing it in partnership with the rural communities where we live and work.”

Organic Valley’s REC purchase will provide financial support for the development of 12 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity in western Wisconsin. Though the electricity from these arrays will flow to member utilities in the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), the contract enables Organic Valley to count that solar output towards its own renewable energy goals. Both UMMEG and the solar developer, OneEnergy Renewables, are working to attract other potential REC purchasers to achieve a total project build-out of 29 MW.

“The cost of electricity is going to be reduced over the life of these systems for everyone in these communities," said Stanley Minnick, energy services manager at Organic Valley.

Until this announcement, Organic Valley’s investments in local renewable generation had taken the form of rooftop arrays on its LaFarge and Cashton facilities and a two-turbine, five MW wind power installation adjacent to its Cashton distribution center. Today, those facilities account for about 60% of Organic Valley’s electricity usage. But to attain a goal of 100% renewable energy for its operational footprint, Organic Valley needs to expand its renewable energy supplies beyond what can be produced from its behind-the-meter installations.

Organic Valley’s arrangement with UMMEG and OneEnergy Renewables purchase is emblematic of a broader trend among U.S. corporations and institutions, namely the purchase larger quantities of renewable energy or REC’s from new off-site generators. Indeed, there is clearly a growing comfort level among utilities and independent developers to supply both corporate and residential customers with solar power generated from off-site solar facilities. 

Photo courtesy Organic Valley
In addition to increasing its own use of renewable power and helping farmers in its vendor network invest in wind and solar energy, Organic Valley is a sponsor of RENEW’s annual energy policy summit held in January in Madison.

A RENEW business member, OneEnergy Renewables has committed to landscape each of the project arrays with native grasses that will provide a home for bees and butterflies. In addition to its solar venture with UMMEG and Organic Valley, the Seattle-based solar developer will also build a one megawatt solar garden in Cashton in 2018 to supply the community solar program offered by Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin utility.