‘A Labor of Love’
River Valley Co-op and Co-op Power recently announced a significant achievement: 65 families with low incomes or who are situated within Eversource’s environmental-justice neighborhoods have signed up for low-cost solar power, marking a local step toward mitigating the environmental impact of global warming while promoting community well-being.
In 2014, River Valley Co-op set a sustainability goal to generate 50% of the electricity used annually for its then-future second store through on-site green energy. Upon engaging in real-estate negotiations in 2017 for the second store, on the site of a former Oldsmobile dealership in Easthampton, the co-op simultaneously engaged Co-op Power for support with feasibility of solar power at the store.
Working with the engineering team of Solar Design Associates, a solar canopy over the rooftop and parking lot was proposed. The result was a preliminary, groundbreaking grocery-store design that could achieve River Valley Co-op’s net-zero goal, offsetting 100% of the new store’s electricity.
“The journey has been filled with challenges, but after six years of relentless effort in partnership with our solar developer, Co-op Power — a labor of love for and with our community — we successfully energized the rooftop system,” said Rochelle Prunty, general manager of River Valley Co-op, adding that “we finalized the subscription of 65 community solar shares that were essential to the project, and within a month, we anticipate energizing the solar canopy.”
The success of this project demonstrates that on-site solar electricity can reach net-zero for a grocery store. Moreover, it brings significant relief to 65 community households with low incomes or those situated within Eversource’s environmental-justice neighborhoods, collectively saving them $20,000 on their annual electric bills through the community solar aspect of this project. The economic relief to these community families, including some co-op employees, is timely as many people are struggling with especially high inflation in electric costs over the past year.
“River Valley Co-op remains committed to our mission of creating a just marketplace that nurtures the community through our community-owned retail grocery business operations,” Prunty said. “We leverage our business for addressing the pressing issues of fostering sustainable local food-system development, fighting global warming, and working for overall environmental and social justice.”
The hope, she added, is that this grocery-store solar project inspires others and drives systemic changes that support more widespread community ownership of solar- and green-energy innovations to democratize sustainable energy production. Partners on the project include Co-op Power, PV Squared, EOS Energy Systems, Sunwealth, Solar Design Associates, Wright Builders, Thomas Douglas Architects, and Berkshire Design Group.
Prunty also credited support from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, and Eversource in making the project a reality.
“It feels great to have been able to exceed our 2014 stretch goal of 50% for site-generated solar power to net-zero,” she added. “It took years of work to get here, navigating a system that was not designed for short-term profits for corporations, but instead for net-zero, local, community-owned solar production for either individuals or businesses. But with steadfast support from Co-op Power and so many others in our community, we are about the reach the finish line.”