The Flemington Area Food Pantry celebrated a new solar installation at its facility on Route 31 with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.
The project was made possible by a collaborative effort among solar industry companies and community volunteers.
Among those who helped make the installation a reality was North Hunterdon High School junior 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,” Kuster said. “My dad works at a solar energy development company called Merit SI, and he suggested we ask for donations to fund the system.”
So, Kuster asked and companies in the solar industry answered. First Solar, OMCO Solar, SMA America, and ProCircuit Electrical Contracting signed on to the project. Collectively, the businesses donated an entire solar installation to the pantry, relieving an annual electricity bill of $10,556 (2019). The new 33 kW system will allow those funds to be allocated toward the purchase of food for the community – enough to prepare 6,360 meals.
Jeannine Gorman, executive director of the Flemington Area Food Pantry, emphasized the value of the installation. “Every dollar we spend on our electric bill is one less dollar we can spend on food for the community,” she said. “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.”
And, according to the food pantry, the contribution could not have come at a better time. “This display of generosity could not have been timelier, given the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The nonprofit reported that between March and May, there were 400 new registrants at the pantry, and in the first six months of the year, it saw a 30 percent increase in their clientele.
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 under served 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. “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 Arizona-based First Solar Inc. OMCO Solar, a community and utility-scale manufacturer of solar tracker and racking solutions, mounted the pantry’s array. Director of solar business development Eric Goodwin expressed the company’s pleasure to participate. “Energy costs can be a burden for many households, especially now, so bringing solar to a community resource such as the Food Pantry is a great opportunity to give back,” he said. “We are grateful to the Merit SI team in particular for including OMCO Solar in this effort, and we are proud to work alongside them to complete this project.”
System technology specialists SMA America donated the Sunny Tripower CORE1 inverter and Flemington-based ProCircuit 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,” Evan Kuster said. “It has been a positive light for us all to help our neighbors while chipping away at the impacts of climate change.”
Donations to the Flemington Area Food Pantry can be made at http://flemingtonfoodpantry.org/donate.