Organic Valley, La Farge, Wis., announced what is said to be a first-of-its-kind community partnership that will enable it to become the largest food company in the world to source 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.
"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," says George Siemon, founding farmer and CEO. "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 is collaborating with the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), Blue Earth, Minn., and OneEnergy Renewables, Seattle, Wash., to create the new community solar partnership. Together, the partners will initiate over 12 megawatts (MW) of solar installations in Wisconsin. The electricity created by this partnership will enable Organic Valley to cover 100% of its electric energy needs from renewable sources by 2019, and increase overall solar energy use in Wisconsin by 15%. Beyond the 12 MW project portfolio, an additional 17-plus MW expected to be constructed as well, resulting in nearly 30 MW of new solar in the region. Critical to this partnership, Organic Valley will purchase renewable energy credits from the solar projects near its headquarters and distribution center, enabling the cooperative to be fully renewable-powered.
As a result of the partnership, all participating communities will receive lower and more stable electric costs and the environmental benefits of renewable power.
Additionally, the community solar partnership will adopt pollinator-friendly solar standards as part of Organic Valley's commitment to animals, people and the planet. Rather than being planted with turf grass or covered in gravel, the installations will incorporate pollinator-friendly habitat into the design. Once complete, these meadows, filled with native flowering plants and grasses, will create as much bee and butterfly habitat as if 30,000 families were to each plant 6x12-foot pollinator gardens.
"Organic Valley was built on an environmental ethic, promoting ecological and economic sustainability," says Jonathan Reinbold, head of sustainability, Organic Valley. "As leaders in food and farming, it is our responsibility to pioneer change for good. Our hope is that this partnership to install community-scale solar will be replicated by municipal utilities around the country and propel more rural communities toward economic stability and energy independence."