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Milk, Eggs and Solar: Grocery Co-Op Puts Photovoltaics to Work

September 2, 2010 - 12:15pm


Grocery shoppers in Burlington, Vt., are picking up much more than food and household items these days. 

Strolling the aisles of community-owned City Market, the 3,000 daily customers also learn about the co-op's 136 rooftop photovoltaic panels and monthly "Solar Made Simple" seminars.

Reducing energy demand

With freezer and refrigerator units running 24/7, energy demand is high at the 16,000 square foot store.  The co-op's electricity bill averaged $17,000 a month.

With the solar energy system, its conventional energy use is expected to fall about three percent, helped by the 31 kilowatts of solar-generated power fed directly into the store.   That's the kWh reduction equivalent of powering six Burlington homes, according to City Market. 

Since activation in March, the grocer has generated 22.8 MWh of renewable energy. Ultimately, a $53,900 Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund grant  through the Recovery Act and a $40,204 federal tax credit defrayed the store's cost, leaving it to pay just half of the $187,912 bill. 



City Market hopes to recoup its investment in seven years and inspire customers to explore residential solar power all the while. 

"We're adding and removing coolers so [total energy reductions are] hard to judge," explains Facilities Manager Brent M. Demers.  "The panels are adding quite a bit of energy to the building and they are working the way they were designed to work." 

Keeping it sunny in Vermont

In keeping with its mission to support the local economy, the market worked with Vermont-based groSolar to install the photovoltaic solar energy system from Canadian Solar and lead the in-store education effort. 

If City Market seminar attendees launch solar projects of their own, groSolar provides them a $500 discount and donates $250 to CityMarket's sustainable agriculture fund. 

"A few of our members have gone away from the seminar and have actually purchased solar panels for their own homes," Demers says. "We're having a positive impact on the community."

Joe A. Adams of groSolar recalls the two organizations' partnership unfolding from July through December of 2009 as the solar company prepared grant proposals on the grocer's behalf.  "We had to figure out what kind of incentives they would get and what they would need to fund themselves," says Adams, who handles Vermont sales and presents the "Solar Made Simple" seminars.

As a result of the companies' collaboration, many shoppers will expand their conservationism from locally-grown organic food shopping to renewable energy production. 

As for Adams, the local and sustainable focus is important.  "I'm passionate about renewables and get to meet others who are excited about doing something positive."