‘Flipping the switch’ on new solar panels

  • Morey Phippen flips the switch to turn on the new solar panels installed at Quabbin Harvest Food Coop. Phippen and her husband, Brian Adams, financed the panels through their organization, PhippenAdams Solar LLC. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Cathy Stanton, Quabbin Harvest board president, speaks to a crowd about the new solar panels installed on the roof of the food cooperative. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

  • Leigh Youngblood, executive director of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, speaks about the new solar panels on the top of the Quabbin Harvest Food Coop. The building is owned by Mount Grace. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN

Staff Writer
Published: 2/7/2020 9:40:52 PM
Modified: 2/7/2020 9:40:39 PM

ORANGE — How fitting that a nonprofit selling locally grown food will have its building powered by the sun.

People gathered at Quabbin Harvest Food Co-op Thursday for a “Flip the Switch” celebration of the solar arrays installed on the roof of the 12 North Main St. building, which is owned by Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust.

“For me, this day is about celebrating the power of love — love for the earth and the land and the sun, and also the power of community,” said Leigh Youngblood, executive director for Mount Grace.

The 40 panels of the 14.4 kW system will generate 16,000 kWh in a year, an amount of energy that would power many homes six times over.

And the installation is emblematic of a tight-knit community, a web of different individuals and organizations that made the solar arrays a reality.

The solar arrays are dedicated in the memory of Peter Talmage, assistant professor of renewable energy and energy efficiency at Greenfield Community College.

“Peter was an unassuming person who made such a huge impact,” said Mary Ellen Fydenkevez, chief academic officer of student and academic affairs at GCC.

Talmage, who died last February, gave lessons on solar technology to his students, including Rusty Ingold-Smith, the project manager for Northeast Solar who installed the solar arrays.

“Eleven years ago I took his classes at Greenfield Community College and it shaped my life,” Ingold-Smith said. “I learned I was passionate and really cared about renewable energy. It not only makes a difference for me, but it makes a difference for all the people in the world.”

Also, Talmage’s colleague and former GCC professor of environmental studies, Brian Adams, and Adams’ wife, Morey Phippen, run the organization that financed the solar arrays, PhippenAdams Solar LLC. That organization uses Northeast Solar to install all of its financed solar arrays.

The newest installation is the 31st PhippenAdams Solar LLC has financed. The organization chooses nonprofits whose missions it agrees with — in this case Mount Grace and Quabbin Harvest.

“One of the criteria (for financing) is we need to agree with the mission, and we believe in open space and active farmland,” Adams said.

People from all these entities — Quabbin Harvest, Mount Grace, PhippenAdams, Northeast Solar — were on hand Thursday to celebrate their collective achievement.

Mount Grace’s mission, Youngblood said, is to “protect land and land stewardship,” supporting nonprofits like Quabbin Harvest, which don’t necessarily have the resources to own their own building, having started in a small space at the Orange Innovation Center.

“The reason we partner with them is they provide local produce from local farms, local products,” Youngblood said. “It’s important to have a market in what’s otherwise a food desert.”

Adams said his organization began financing solar arrays for nonprofits in 2016. Nonprofits that get a solar installation agree to a purchase power agreement for six years, paying PhippenAdams a rate as if it were a utility company. That way, PhippenAdams is able to make money off the installation, and put that money into more installations by Northeast Solar at other nonprofits. Everybody wins, Adams said.

“With solar, the Achilles heal, if there is such a thing, is the upfront costs,” Adams said. “Nonprofits can’t take advantage of tax incentives; so many organizations don’t have that upfront money.”

Adams said it’s nice to help organizations like Quabbin Harvest “in towns like Orange who are in need of assistance.”

According to Cathy Stanton, Quabbin Harvest board president, the food cooperative is “still working to become profitable” five years after it moved into the building. It has not only provided healthy, locally grown food at reasonable prices, but has become a “gathering place,” Stanton said.

“The climate is changing here and now,” Stanton said. “In the middle of the night, I am discouraged, but when I come to a gathering like this, I’m heartened.”

The partnership with Mount Grace, the work from Northeast Solar and the funds from PhippenAdams “connects all these dots of land, water, food and energy,” Stanton said, and the solar arrays fit into the groups’ missions. Even on the darkest of days, the panels will continue to rein energy from the sun.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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