How Organic Valley lit up 10 communities with solar while meeting its clean energy goals

August 08, 2019

This article originally appeared in GreenBiz

By Sarah Golden

Last week, Organic Valley became the latest company to announce it is on track to be powered by 100 percent clean energy. That makes the dairy co-operative the largest food company in the world to do so, according to its marketing team.

But if you are just focusing on the headline, you’re missing most of the story.

That’s because Organic Valley figured out a unique deal structure that is creative and complex, necessitating collaboration with organizations from different sectors. The result: 32 megawatts installed at 10 locations feeding into 13 municipal utilities in three states, known collectively as the Butter Solar Project.

Collectively, the Butter Solar Project spreads the benefits of community solar to 23,000 people in rural communities in the Midwest, and gives Organic Valley, Dr. Bronner’s, Clif Bar and the city of Madison, Wisconsin, the right to talk up their role in helping make that happen.

Here’s how the arrangement works

The energy developer — OneEnergy Renewables — built solar projects. The local municipal utilities — the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG) — buys the energy from the solar panels to power its customers. Then, the organizations committed to transitioning to clean energy — Organic Valley and others — buys the renewable energy certificates (RECs) from the solar projects.

By buying the RECs, the companies are enabling the municipal utilities to build new solar projects. UMMEG, a joint action agency, buys wholesale power for its customers, meaning one of its most important functions is finding affordable energy. Without RECs offsetting costs, it doesn’t pencil.

In other words, deal structure catalyzed a chain reaction that brought more clean energy to the grid while creating a new model that others could emulate.

"This is a project that exemplifies using business to have a positive impact on the planet and people living on the planet," said Darcy Shiber-Knowles, senior quality, sustainability and innovation manager at Dr. Bronner's. "The scale of it and the potential for it to be replicated as a model are all really exciting. I want this type of model to be copied and I hope it spreads."

Read the full article on GreenBiz: How Organic Valley lit up 10 communities with solar while meeting its clean energy goals.

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