Local food, local panels

An array of solar panels is now atop the Monadnock Food Co-Op off Cypress Street

A Keene business is the first in the city to install a community supported solar array, and the project’s developers hope it won’t be the last.

While there are already solar installations in the Monadnock Region, including in the towns of Hinsdale, Peterborough and Swanzey with another proposed for Fitzwilliam, the one now sitting atop the roof of the Monadnock Food Co-op on Cypress Street is different, according to John Kondos, president of the Monadnock Sustainability Network.

The co-op’s 43.5 kilowatt photovoltaic system is locally owned and controlled, he said, and the others aren’t.

In general, most photovoltaic arrays are owned and managed by private developers and utilities, according to a project description.

The co-op system, which has 106 panels, went online in May, and was installed by Keene-based Solar Source.

Megan Straughen, events, education and sustainability coordinator for the co-op, said the system is expected to produce 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which will cover about 8 to 10 percent of the power used by the business.

“We see this whole situation as a win-win-win,” she said. “It reduces our energy footprint, and we’re super excited to have this opportunity.”

In addition, co-op officials were thrilled to be able to work with the Monadnock Sustainability Network’s Kondos to bring this new idea to the region, she said.

“The project is so easy to replicate, and we hope others in the region will do this,” Straughen said.

The co-op opened in 2013, and has a mission statement that includes meeting the city’s needs for a community-owned, downtown food market that supports local farmers and food producers and provides people with a healthy and sustainable food system.

Kondos said the photovoltaic system installed at the co-op is a pilot project for the Monadnock Sustainability Network. The nonprofit organization has written a guide to developing and executing community supported solar projects in New Hampshire.

The co-op project took more than two years to complete because of the learning curve, and legal and funding hurdles, he said.

The system is owned by a limited liability company formed by nine local investors, according to Kondos. The co-op has a power purchase agreement with the firm to use the electricity generated by the photovoltaic system at a discounted price, according to the project description.

Eventually, the plan is to transfer ownership of the system to the co-op after six years, at which time the business would pay the investors the fair market value of the system, Kondos said.

In the meantime, the investors will receive a return on the system based on federal and state tax credits and rebates, the project’s description said.

“We’re really just trying to encourage more people to do more systems like this,” Kondos said of the community supported solar model.

Besides the co-op, churches and farms that use the community-supported agriculture model have been the most interested so far in community supported solar, Kondos said.

“Our objective is to create a pipeline of (community supported solar) projects in the region to harness clean, free fuel and enhance resilience, while keeping investment, tax and energy dollars local,” he said.

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or mfoley@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.