Organic Valley, the farmer-owned organic dairy and produce cooperative headquartered in La Farge, announced Thursday it has reached its 100% renewable energy target set in 2017.
It’s a notable achievement attained by one other Wisconsin non-utility group, Gundersen Health System, said RENEW Wisconsin policy director Michael Vickerman.
Organic Valley started increasing its renewable energy portfolio by installing solar panels on its roofs and buying renewable energy credits from two wind turbines that it owns and operates with Gundersen Health System.
The cooperative hit its renewables goal with the completion of three solar projects in Cashton, Arcadia and St. Charles, Minnesota, which significantly scaled up its renewable energy portfolio, said Stanley Minnick, energy services and technology manager at Organic Valley. The projects are rated at a combined 12.67 megawatts of direct current power.
“Renewable energy is not even the future anymore,” Minnick said. “It’s the present. It makes total sense for an organization run by farmers to take advantage of the power from the sun.”
When companies commit to renewable energy, one common way to reach their goal without owning and operating an energy farm is to buy renewable energy credits equal to the kilowatt-hour amount of energy used to power their businesses. These credits often come from renewable energy sources across the country, such as solar farms from the sun-drenched Southwest or wind farms on the Great Plains.
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Rather than look elsewhere for its renewable energy credits, Organic Valley chose to support three local community solar projects developed by OneEnergy Renewables and owned and operated by BluEarth Renewables, Minnick said.
Commitment from organizations including the city of Madison, Dr. Bronners, Native Energy, and Clif Bar & Company made possible 10 BluEarth community solar projects.
Five are supported by renewable credits the city of Madison bought for $1.4 million, Vickerman said. These credits brings Madison about one-third of the way to its 100% renewable energy goal.
The credits also help finance the community solar arrays so that municipalities contracted to buy power from them can secure lower, long-term fixed electric rates for their customers, Organic Valley included, Minnick said.
Wind and solar energy have become affordable to the point that renewables are cheaper than about 74% of all coal power plants today, according a renewable analysis firm study.
And, the solar sites will graze sheep, provide pollinator habitat, and increases the amount of home-grown renewable energy produced in a state heavily dependent on coal, Minnick said.
Coal power plants produced almost half of Wisconsin’s electricity in 2018, whereas renewables made up 9%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.