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VOL. 36 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 24, 2012

Solar deal means more meals for Second Harvest

By Hollie Deese

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When Nashville-based Silicon Ranch approached the Second Harvest Food Bank about a partnership that would cost them no money but save plenty, it seemed like too good a deal to pass up.

Silicon Ranch wanted to install solar panels on the roof of their Great Circle Road facility at no cost. Instead, the estimated annual 2600 kilowatt hours harvested from the 840 panels would be returned to the grid, and the TVA would issue energy credits. Silicon Ranch and Second Harvest would each get a portion of those credits.

Second Harvest went for it, the panels were installed, and on March 3 the site will begin harvesting solar energy and transmitting it to the TVA.

“Our leadership team had been looking at some cost-saving measures to reduce our operating and utility expenses, so it really dovetails nicely into some of the different things we were looking into with cost savings,” says Tasha Kennard, spokeswoman for Second Harvest. “With this there were no installation fees, no maintenance fees. It was literally zero work from us other than a few meetings with them.”

Kennard says the money saved will be reinvested into food distribution.

“Each year that we harness this energy we will be able to provide, at minimum, 480,000 meals into our 46-county service area as a result.” She says they currently distribute around 15,000 meals a year. “Adding half a million to that is significant.”

“For non-profits, this is a very easy solution to help further your mission,” she adds. “If you have a facility that can host a grid type project, it is definitely worth looking into.”

Silicon Ranch Corporation is located on the roundabout and has been in operation for about a year. It is currently constructing a 1.4 megawatt solar power plant in Pulaski, the largest privately-owned solar installation in the state.

As with many local non-profits, funds have been tight for the past few years. Kennard says Second Harvest is open to more partnerships that benefit its mission and the environment. Their biggest cause for concern is finding a better way of disposing the large amounts of food waste they have.

“Food banks across the United States deal with a lot of waste in terms of the packaging that we receive products in, and the food that we receive that can’t be distributed because of its date,” she says. “We have to discard that.”

The right composting solution has not yet been found. And since Second Harvest is a manufacturing facility, a large amount of vegetable oil needs to be discarded each month.

“We are looking at possible partnerships to turn that into biodiesel fuel, but we haven’t selected a partner in either the composting or biodiesel yet,” Kennard says.

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