by David Lester, General Manager
If you saw lots of movement on the roof of the Oneota Community Food Co-op in mid-October, don’t worry, everything is fine. Actually, everything is really great. The Co-op installed a 20,000 watt solar array on the roof of our building in downtown Decorah. This will be one of the largest downtown solar projects in Decorah and will supply approximately 5% of the Co-op’s electricity in a year. Through a bid process, the Co-op contracted Decorah Electric to install the 80-panel system and expected it to be officially completed by the end of October and producing electricity.
One of the Co-op’s priorities (Ends) is that we will be “a business that promotes environmental sustainability” and the rooftop solar project is one of several enhancements to our commitment to sustainable business practices. To highlight this project, we will be dedicating a section of wall space in the café seating area to a monitor that will show customers and staff how much the system is producing and other information on the solar array as well as other solar projects in the Decorah area. We have been working with the Winneshiek Energy district on the informational wall design and the information that will be available to customers.
Another big, exciting energy reduction project that has been completed is replacing our cooler and freezer case lights with LED technology. The new LED cooler/ freezer case lights will save the Co-op approximately 75% in the lighting cost of these cases.
The Co-op Board and I have been discussing carbon reduction business practices and the possibility of a large rooftop solar project for about two years and the timing of the project could not be better. The rebates from Alliant Energy are ending this year and the tax credits from the State of Iowa and the Federal government are excellent for a system of this size, so we decided to fasttrack this project. We have over 4,200 active members who expect us to be leaders in the community in finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint as a business and further our sustainable business practices. I encourage anyone looking into the possibility of installing solar in their home or business to act quickly and talk to one of the several qualified installers in the Decorah area.
In addition to the rebates and tax credits, Co-op members JoAnn and George Hagen pledged a $16,000 gift towards the solar project. The Hagens commented, “We believe that the climate crisis is occurring. So, we have acted on this by increasing our energy efficiency personally by driving high mileage cars and installing solar panels on our home. We hope others will take seriously the threat to our planet and the quality of life of our children and grandchildren and will support alternative energy projects in our community along with energy conservation such as what the Oneota Community Food Co-op is doing. We feel blessed to live in a community where so many people care, and we hope our contribution will make a positive difference.”
Thanks to the Hagens and the encouragement of our membership and Board, we have completed a big piece of our carbon reduction plan and will keep seeking ways to reduce our carbon footprint into the future. I hope to see you in the store soon checking out our “Energy Wall.”