Family makes anonymous donation of solar power systems to 8 organizations

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 12, 2017, by

The sun is shining on eight nonprofits in the Valley this fall after a local family anonymously agreed to pay nearly $400,000 to install free solar power systems at each organization’s headquarters.

Northeast Solar, based in Hatfield, is building and installing the solar power systems, the first of which was successfully installed on the rooftop of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture in South Deerfield this week.

“The donors, like us, were motivated by both their passion for the community, and their passion for protecting the environment,” Northeast Solar President Greg Garrison said.

The other seven installations will grace the properties of the Amherst Survival Center, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, the Grove Street Inn homeless shelter in Northampton, Historic Northampton, Peace Development Fund in Amherst, Prospect Meadow Farm in Hatfield and ServiceNet in Northampton.

According to Garrison, the eight installations will save the chosen organizations over $500,000 in operating costs through energy savings, money that will go toward carrying out the eight nonprofit organizations’ missions.

“This does two things. One, it helps those people who are resource-poor save money through utility savings,” Garrison said. “Two, all of the dollars they are saving will flow through their projects and stay in the community. A farm could put the money into production, for example. Going solar is really about keeping our dollars local.”

The systems are also expected to reduce local carbon emissions by more than 1 million pounds over the next 30 years, satisfying the donors’ passions for supporting their community and protecting the environment, Garrison said.

Together, the eight systems cost $395,000, and are to be installed with a free labor donation by Northeast Solar.

In 2016, the anonymous donors, whom Garrison describes as longtime “acquaintances,” approached Northeast Solar about donating solar panels to a local nonprofit organization.

After some discussion, the donors chose the Northampton Survival Center, which provides nutritional groceries to low-income individuals and families from 18 cities and towns in Hampshire County, as the first recipient of their donated solar panels.

According to Garrison, the donors viewed the Survival Center installation last fall as a “pilot project.”

The donors wanted the center to pay no cost for the installation, but also wanted to save as much money as possible themselves in order to help other nonprofit organizations. With future donations in mind, the donors opted to retain ownership of the center’s solar power system for five years.

That enables them to receive tax credits — something the center can’t do because it of its nonprofit status — while the center cuts its utility costs. The plan is for the tax credits to fund solar installations at other organizations. After five years, the donors will hand ownership of the installation over to the nonprofit for free.

“The family that made the donation, somebody needs to nominate them for an award,” Northampton Survival Center Executive Director Heidi Nortonsmith said.

Nortonsmith said the donation of the solar power system stands out as creative, and sends an important message to the community.

“It does save us money, and I’m sure we will save thousands of dollars, but the calculations are actually beside the point. It’s really about doing a great thing for the environment and for the Pioneer Valley,” Nortonsmith said.

The donors have ties to the survival center and have supported it for years both with monetary donations and volunteer hours, Nortonsmith said.

Test run a success

Buoyed by the success at the survival center, the donating family is moving ahead with the eight new installations at other sites using the same structure — they will own the systems for five years and use the tax credits to potentially make more donations.

It’s a “revolving fund of sorts,” according to Philip Korman, executive director of CISA, the first nonprofit to get a system.

Northeast Solar aims to install another system each week from here on out, with each of the other seven organizations having operational solar power systems by winter.

CISA’s primary objectives are strengthening local farms and engaging t he community with the local f ood economy.

“The only way I could’ve gotten these solar panels is if I found a few donors and asked them to pay and put them on the roof,” said Korman, noting that the donors are CISA supporters. “But, if I ask ‘individual A’ for solar panels, then I can’t go ask ‘individual A’ for something else. So, it was the intent of the donors to help their community that made this happen. I’m honored and glad to be a member of this group of nonprofits receiving the systems.”