Organic Valley is no stranger to renewable energy. According to sustainability manager Jonathan Reinbold, the co-op and brand has utilized wind, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal and biodiesel technologies, and has historically been able to meet 60 percent of its electricity needs through these renewable sources. But the bar was recently raised with a new community solar initiative, which will allow Organic Valley to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2019. Here’s what you need to know about the new solar project:
1. It’s a community partnership with community benefits. Organic Valley teamed up with the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group and OneEnergy Renewables to make the new solar plan happen. Together, the three will create over 12 megawatts of solar installations in Wisconsin, enabling Organic Valley to reach 100 percent renewability and also increasing overall solar energy use in the state by 15 percent. “When we approached this project, we wanted to distribute the benefit to many communities and do so economically,” Reinbold says. “We felt solar was the best way to accomplish that.”
2. It’s just one in a portfolio of renewable initiatives at Organic Valley. According to Reinbold, solar PV makes up a small portion of Organic Valley’s current renewable energy mix. In fact, Cashton Greens Wind Farm is its most significant contributor.
3. It’s pollinator-friendly design is good for farms. Beyond being emissions-free, the new solar initiative will support local pollinator populations. Rather than planting panels in turf grass or areas covered in gravel, the design will include meadow habitats filled with native flowering plants and grasses. According to Organic Valley, these will create as much bee and butterfly habitats as if 30,000 families were to each plant 6-by-12-foot pollinator gardens. “Butterflies, bees and other pollinators are what make our small family farms possible,” Reinbold says. “By incorporating these habitats, we ensure that we're adding benefits to the surrounding community beyond just the emissions-free energy.”