Organic Valley announced in late October that it would be transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2019 – an announcement that is significant not only for the dairy co-op but also for trends in growing renewable energy nationwide.
The company’s solar solution is the result of several years of work, beginning with the installation of a five-megawatt wind farm in the Wisconsin, where the co-op is headquartered, back in 2012.
While this farm was originally intended to help Organic Valley reach 100 percent renewable energy right off the bat, the co-op grew to such an extent between the planning and the construction phases that the farm was only able to account for a percentage of its energy use. The Organic Valley team knew that it would need to make a bigger investment if it hoped to reach 100 percent renewable energy while continuing to grow its business.
The company thus decided to collaborate with OneEnergy Renewables, a developer of community-and utility-scale solar energy projects, to meet its goal. Together with Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group, the companies created a partnership to develop new solar facilities in Wisconsin and bring total new installations to about 29 MW – more than twice what Organic Valley actually needed to reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal.
“There’s demand from the utilities within our region for up to 30 megawatts worth of electricity from solar, and our need is a little under 13 megawatts,” explains Jonathan Reinbold, Sustainability, Research & Grants Manager at Organic Valley.
In other words, Organic Valley is not actually building new solar facilities, but rather committing to a regular renewable energy purchase, thus encouraging the construction of such facilities by third party builders.
“In order to make it financially viable for the project owner, there needs to be some additional financial incentive,” explains Reinbold. “That’s where we come in, as an anchor buyer of electricity.”
Thanks to this project, then, not only will Organic Valley be transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, but it will also be providing renewable energy credits to the state, lowering the cost of power for Wisconsin residents and increasing the state’s overall solar energy use by 15 percent.
“There’s an argument to be made that without Organic Valley, these Wisconsin utilities never would have been able to attract the necessary capital investments to add solar to their grids,” explains New Food Economy.
Organic Valley joins the likes of Whole Foods, Lego, and Google in making such a commitment. If it succeeds, it will be the largest food company in the world to do so, according to Rocky Mountain Institute, becoming an important role model for other companies looking to help normalize renewable energy in the U.S.
And the buck doesn’t stop here for Organic Valley.
While this commitment pertains only to the co-op’s office buildings, processing facilities, and distribution centers, Organic Valley is also helping its 2,000 farms, present in 36 states, to transition to renewable energy. Some 220 of the co-ops farms have already installed solar panels, and Organic Valley is working not only to increase that number to 50 percent in the next few years, but also to encourage farmers to take other steps towards reducing their fossil fuel impact, by producing biofuel on-site, for example.
“It’s part of our mission as an organization,” says Reinbold – and it’s one more reason to support this pioneer of organic, grass-fed dairy in the United States.
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