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Nonprofit goes solar to save

Panels let food bank buy 13,000 more pounds yearly

Sam Schwarz, left, and Seth Lucas install solar panels on the roof of the South Coast Food Share pantry in Myrtle Point, Ore., on April 5. (Associated Press)
Sam Schwarz, left, and Seth Lucas install solar panels on the roof of the South Coast Food Share pantry in Myrtle Point, Ore., on April 5. (Associated Press)
Nate Traylor The (Coos Bay, Ore.) World

MYRTLE POINT, Ore – The Myrtle Point Food Share wants to be a shining example of efficiency.

Taking advantage of a break in the weather on a Wednesday afternoon, Seth Lucas and Sam Schwarz schlepped solar panels across the food bank’s roof and cautiously laid them across racks, positioning them just so.

Lucas: “Hold it.”

Schwarz: “Holding.”

And with that, Lucas bolted the umpteenth panel into place.

Only about 50 more to go.

Oregon Coast Community Action’s food bank solar project will boast one of the largest photovoltaic arrays on the South Coast. Its 20.93-kilowatt system is even larger than the Coos Bay Visitor Center’s.

Myrtle Point Food Share will be one of the few food banks in the state using renewable energy and the only one in Coos and Curry counties.

“Oregon Coast Community Action has been looking for ways to lower long-term operating costs,” said Shannon Souza of Coos Bay’s Sol Coast Consulting and Design.

She designed the project; her husband, Seth Lucas, is installing it.

Going solar is a pretty progressive step for a nonprofit agency. Patricia Gouveia, ORCCA’s director of essential services, said she hopes other organizations will follow ORCCA’s lead.

“If our mission is to help low-income people get food, why not do it the most efficient way possible?” Gouveia said.

The project was funded by a $40,375 grant from Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program and a matching grant from Energy Trust of Oregon.

ORCCA’s board of directors contributed another $20,000.

“It’s not a traditional approach for CAPs (community action programs) to do this,” Gouveia said.

And Myrtle Point Food Share isn’t a traditional pantry. ORCCA renovated an old church at 1320 Maryland Ave. into a shopping-style food bank.

It’s set up like any grocery, with a bank of coolers, giving clients a traditional shopping experience. In other words, the needy aren’t handed boxes of food, Gouveia explained.

“Just because you need assistance for food doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a dignified process,” she said.

Keeping all those appliances humming is costly, which compelled ORCCA to seek an alternative energy source.

The panels are expected to save ORCCA about $1,820 a year. That will amount to about 13,000 more pounds of food annually.

ORCCA isn’t the only agency looking to the sun for energy solutions.

“Nonprofits have been pursuing solar the most aggressively the past few years,” Souza said.

However, nonprofits and government agencies don’t directly qualify for those slick tax breaks that businesses and individuals do.

Last year, Blue Sky helped fund about 10 renewable energy projects for public and nonprofit facilities throughout the state, including solar panel installations in Coos Bay at the visitor center and fire station.

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