Solar Panels Reduce Operating Costs for Local Food Bank

Fair Oaks, CA  |  Story and photo by Shaunna Boyd
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After flipping the switch to activate the new solar panels, the Fair Oaks and Orangevale Rotary Clubs and SMUD present giant checks to Grid Alternatives. From left to right: Fair Oaks Rotary Club President Bruce Vincent, Orangevale Rotary Club President Tommy Peno, Grid Alternatives Board Member Jonathan Marz, Orangevale-Fair Oaks Food Bank Executive Director Keith Wright, SMUD Board Member Brandon Rose, Orangevale-Fair Oaks Food Bank Founder and President Brad Squires, Sacramento County District 4 Supervisor Sue Frost, and Fair Oaks Rotary Club Project Manager Nick Broad. Photo by Shaunna Boyd

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FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - The Rotary Clubs of Fair Oaks and Orangevale, partnering with SMUD and Grid Alternatives, installed solar panels on the patio roof of the Orangevale-Fair Oaks Food Bank. The solar panels will reduce operating costs by 50%, allowing the food bank to put more money toward their mission of providing food, resources, and hope to local families in need.

“Inspiration started this project,” said Nick Broad, Fair Oaks Rotary Club member and project manager for the solar installation. Broad first came up with the idea after hearing that the Orangevale-Fair Oaks Food Bank, a local non-profit, was looking for a way to reduce their energy costs. Broad had recently visited Grid Alternatives and was “inspired and impressed” by their work installing solar panels for low-income families. Broad suggested that the Rotary Clubs of Fair Oaks and Orangevale collaborate to provide $16,000 of funding for solar panels for the food bank.

The total cost of the solar panels was $26,000, so the Rotary donation would get the project started. SMUD then stepped up and offered to close the funding gap by donating the additional $10,000 needed to complete the project.

Under the direction of licensed solar contractors from Grid Alternatives, Rotary volunteers from Fair Oaks and Orangevale installed the solar panels in two days.  At a closing ceremony on February 23, Broad thanked everyone who volunteered their time, saying he had witnessed “a great deal of competence and sheer volunteerism and love of your community.”

Keith Wright, executive director of the Orangevale-Fair Oaks Food Bank, said, “It takes a lot of community involvement to make something like this come together…It’s amazing to see the groups that have stepped up, to see the community involvement, the volunteerism, and I am proud to be a small part of what has happened here.”

Grid Alternatives board member Jonathan Marz described the organization as “a triple-threat non-profit.” He explained that they focus on bringing solar panels to low-income families to provide “a degree of economic security they might not otherwise have.” They also have an important work-training component, which provides youth with on-the-job training in the construction and electrical trades. “And finally,” said Marz, “it’s about reducing carbon emissions, helping out the environment, [and] becoming more reliant on alternative energy as opposed to traditional energy.” Marz said that this project was a milestone for Grid Alternatives because it is the organization’s first solar panel installation for another non-profit in this region.

SMUD board member Brandon Rose said, “This is an exciting day for the food bank and for SMUD. I’m really honored and proud to be here. I went to Orangevale Open, which is just a mile up the road, so this really is my home. This really is coming full circle to be able to bring a project like this to Orangevale.”

Rose said that one of the greatest benefits of the project is “everyone in the community collaborating and working together for the greater good.”  Rose thanked all the local grocery stores (Raley’s, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Walmart, Grocery Outlet, and WinCo) that enable to day-to-day operations of the food bank, as well as all those who donated their time to complete the installation. “Ultimately we’re all working together for that common goal.”

SMUD estimates that the solar panels will “reduce energy use by 50% and save the food bank more than $56,000 over the next 20 years, while preventing the emission of 150 tons of carbon—or the equivalent of 3,500 trees,” said Rose. SMUD has also suggested energy-efficient lighting and chilling systems to help further reduce operating costs for the food bank.

“So it really will make a big difference,” said Rose. “And the beauty of the whole project is that the savings go right back into the food bank operation, to provide people in our community that extra measure of food security, which is really what it’s all about, and is the real value.”

Sacramento County District 4 Supervisor Sue Frost expressed admiration for “the leadership that just continually emerges from Orangevale and Fair Oaks.” Supervisor Frost expects other local rotary clubs to follow this example and undertake similar projects: “All the things you guys are doing is igniting the local community and the economy, and it’s the beginning of big things to come…Congratulations of the out-of-the-box thinking and the amazing partnership, and all the good you’ve brought to our world.”

Wright said he hopes this project will “be a model for how local organizations can work together to make a project like this happen…We couldn’t do it without all the community support. I would love to see this type of thing replicated throughout the county.”