The Flemington Area Food Pantry, serving Hunterdon County, New Jersey, celebrated and unveiled their brand new solar array installation with a ribbon cutting on Nov. 18 at the Flemington Area Food Pantry.
This project was made possible by a collaborative donation effort amongst notable solar industry leaders and community volunteers, each supplying their individual components.
Among all of the parties who contributed to make the installation a reality, the pantry has one in particular to thank — North Hunterdon High School student, Evan Kuster.
“As a volunteer at the Food Pantry, I was aware that they had a significant electricity expense for their refrigerators and freezers and thought that solar energy could save their budget,” shared Kuster, North Hunterdon High School student, Class of 2022. “My dad works at a solar energy development company called Merit SI, and he suggested we ask for donations to fund the system.”
So the Kusters asked, and solar industry leaders responded. Rallying around their vision of impact, a full slate of project partners including First Solar, OMCO Solar, SMA America and Pro Circuit Electrical Contracting signed on to the project. Collectively, they donated an entire solar installation to the pantry, relieving an annual electricity bill of $10,556 (2019). Now, the new 33-kW system allows those funds to be allocated towards the purchase of food for their community — enough to prepare 6,360 meals.
Jeannine Gorman, executive director of the Flemington Area Food Pantry, emphasized the gravity of this new asset. “Every dollar we spend on our electric bill is one less dollar we can spend on food for the community,” said Gorman. “We carry out our mission on a daily basis; it’s so motivational for us to know that professionals care enough to donate their time, talent and supplies to help us continue to serve our community’s needs.”
This display of generosity could not have been timelier, given the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between March and May, there were 400 new registrants at the pantry, and in the first six months of the year, they saw a 30% increase in their clientele. According to Gorman, “the despair on families’ faces as they have had to ask for help” has been evidence that the pandemic has had a crippling impact, stretching many to levels of need they had not experienced before.
Tom Kuster, CEO of Merit SI and Evan’s father, was proud to spearhead the project. “Facing this global pandemic has undoubtedly been daunting for all Americans, but it has been particularly difficult for underserved and at-risk communities,” said Kuster. “At Merit SI, we believe our role as corporate citizens is to convene forces and lend assistance wherever the need is the greatest.”
Merit SI provided the infrastructure design and engineering, but also acted as coordinator, bringing many key players on board to make it happen. “We are thankful to our partners for donating their time, expertise, and solutions to this project, which will substantially help this community during this grave and unprecedented time,” Kuster said.
The advanced thin-film solar modules were donated by First Solar. OMCO Solar, a community and utility-scale OEM of solar tracker and racking solutions, mounted the pantry’s array. SMA America donated the Sunny Tripower CORE1 inverter.
Pro Circuit Electrical Contracting installed the array, donating all of the electrical and general labor.
“I am amazed at all the collaboration among the many companies that committed to the project…I want to thank all of the donors, and the individuals who made this possible,” said Evan Kuster. “It has been a positive light for us all to help our neighbors while chipping away at the impacts of climate change.”
News item from SMA America