by George Harvey

Green Energy Times

January 15, 2020

This summer, the Upper Valley Haven (the Haven), a non-profit organization in White River Junction, VT that provides food, shelter, and hope for people addressing the challenges of poverty, was able to realize a 25% reduction in its electricity bills when a solar array located in Scotch Hollow, Newbury, Vermont came online. Over the 25-year lifetime of this project, the Haven is projected to save over $170,000 in expenses which it will be able to direct to its services.

LEED-certified Hixon Adult Shelter at the Upper Valley Haven.

LEED-certified Hixon Adult Shelter at the Upper Valley Haven. Photos courtesy of UV Haven.

Upper Valley Haven team photo

Upper Valley Haven kitchen volunteers.

This project is the latest in a series that the Haven has taken on to be a sustainability organization. Though there’s no official definition, sustainability organizations demonstrate the inclusion of social and environmental concerns in business operations. Both for-profit and non-profit organizations can adopt sustainability practices.

It is just about forty years since the Haven came into being. It was founded in 1980 by clergy and parishioners of two Episcopal churches in Vermont, St. Paul’s in White River Junction and St. James’ in Woodstock. They had noticed that a run-down farmhouse had gone up for sale. There were poor families with children in the area who lacked shelter, and the old house was purchased and set up to provide for their needs.

The history of the Haven is full of expansion projects, but this was definitely not growth for just its own sake. Every few years, another need arose with a new challenge. As more churches and people became affiliated with it, it also became clear that local needs went beyond shelter, so the Haven started providing food and clothing in 1983. Services connecting people to jobs and even providing some education were soon added. Economic downturns, especially the one in 2008 put further demands on the Haven. It started providing shelter for those without children, expanding to a second building.

The Haven has achieved energy usage savings and achieved high building performance in new construction projects at its Hartford Avenue campus. The Byrne Community Building, which opened in 2004 prior to the widespread usage of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), received an Energy Star award for efficiency is systems design. The Hixon Adult Shelter (2009) was built with a LEED plan in mind from the beginning, and a basic LEED level was achieved. The Haven has continued to add improvements to both buildings, most recently a dozen programmable thermostats to regulate temperatures and also warn building management staff remotely of any dangerous heat/cold conditions. LED lighting has been installed on exterior walkways for safety. Internal lighting systems will be upgraded to LED later this year which will improve lighting quality and reduce operating expenses.

The Haven puts a lot of attention on food. It has teaching gardens that provide it with fresh food, herbs, vegetables, and fruit. It also distributes canned food, baked goods, and more. Its food waste goes to local farms where it can be used to feed pigs.

The impacts of natural events are often seen more clearly at the Haven than most other places. Hurricane Irene is just one example. It created its own havoc in the area, putting large numbers of people suddenly into need. This means that there is a sudden growth in the Haven’s workload, multiplying it.

The impetus for the connection to solar power came from Community Impact Investors Allan Wieman and Jo Shute from Norwich. They had previously led the effort to install solar power at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley (“UUCUV”) in Norwich, Vermont, and they stepped in to lead the Upper Valley Haven project. Allan and Jo worked with Norwich Solar Technologies for development, design, engineering, construction and power purchase agreement with Green Mountain Power.

Upper Valley Haven Executive Director, Michael Redmond

Upper Valley Haven Executive Director, Michael Redmond, at the Scotch Hollow Newbury Solar Field built by Norwich Solar.

Another member of UUCUV, Dr. David Nierenberg, also serves on The Haven board. Dr. Nierenberg knew about the UUCUV project and suggested to Wieman and Shute that the Haven would be a good candidate for a Net Metering Agreement (NMA). NMAs are often used to bring discounted power to nonprofits unable to take advantage of the tax credits and accelerated depreciation associated with renewable energy projects.

Wieman and Shute agreed with this suggestion and after meetings with Michael and an approval of the project by the Haven’s Board of Directors, the partnership was formed. Allan and Jo were excited to work with The Haven. “We knew about The Haven because of its close relationship with UUCUV, and we wanted to support its work. The Net Metering Agreement provides a way to simultaneously contribute to the Upper Valley Haven and reduce carbon emissions.”

The Haven’s solar array was built this year in Scotch Hollow, Newbury, Vermont in a former sandpit. It has a capacity of 225.56 kilowatts (kW) of DC, which becomes 150 kW of AC power. It is expected to produce 27,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. The Haven is not the only beneficiary, with the town of Newbury and the Newbury Elementary school also signing the net metering agreement.

“We are a very efficient and effective organization—94 cents of every dollar we raise go to program services. In addition, ninety-three percent of our revenues derive from charitable contributions,” said Executive Director Michael Redmond. “When an opportunity came up to save on our electric bill and do something good for the world and the state, it was a natural win on many levels.”