More than 30 volunteers gathered at the Harrisonburg Gift & Thrift Store, on November 5th for a solar ‘barn raising’ that highlighted robust community support for renewable energy and a commitment to serving disadvantaged communities around the world. Together, the 30 volunteers, including professional electricians and solar advocates, worked side by side to install the first section of what will be the largest commercial solar array in Harrisonburg, Va. on the roof of the nonprofit thrift store. When fully complete, the 107 kilowatt (kW) system will save Gift & Thrift over $14,000 annually, all of which will directly benefit the global relief and development work of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
The Solar Self Generation Agreement (SGA) between Secure Futures and Gift and Thrift represents a milestone in Virginia, as a unique model of grassroots organizing and funding, as well as the first solar installation on a Mennonite Church USA affiliated thrift store. “This community driven solar barn raising will allow Gift and Thrift to focus on their mission of aid relief, instead of expensive energy bills, by using only the highest quality American made equipment with a service life of 35-40 years,” said Dr. Tony E. Smith, President of Secure Futures LLC.
The barn raising is the product of a series of local partnerships, each building on a long-term commitment to building a more sustainable and resilient community. “Harrisonburg has the greatest per-person amount of solar energy installed, compared to any city in Virginia,” said Jeff Heie, an organizer of the solar barn raising. “We believe strong grassroots support has been a huge driver of that success.” The solar barn raising effort put 62 kW on the warehouse roof on Saturday. Gift and Thrift board members and other volunteers are currently fundraising for the remaining 45 kW to be installed in spring, 2017. “We have an excellent matching grant initiative,” said board member Tim Godshall. “For every dollar we raise, Gift & Thrift will save six dollars in energy bills over the 35-year lifespan of the system.”