How you can help a Virginia non-profit go solar

By Ben Delman on October 20, 2016

Harrisonburg residents are working together to help a local nonprofit, Gift & Thrift, raise money to install solar on the organization’s three buildings. The group aims to raise $40,000 of the $170,000 cost of the system. Gift & Thrift is a charity thrift store under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee.

The idea for the installation germinated in a local group called Voluntary Gas Tax. Group members pledge to donate 50¢ for each gallon of gas they use. The money the group raises goes to support the development of fossil fuel alternatives. Helping a local institution go solar then was a natural extension of the group’s mission.

“We want to educate folks about solar through this project,” said Jeff Heie. “It’s as much about raising awareness as it is about raising money.”

The group is getting hands-on with the project. On November 5, it will hold a “solar raising” at the non-profit to install the first half of the system. Heie and others will make use of their construction backgrounds to install parts of the system.

Heie credited the work of the solar co-ops in Harrisonburg and the wider Massanutten region as an inspiration for his own group’s work. He noted that Harrisonburg has more solar installed per person than any other city in Virginia.

“These efforts have put Harrisonburg on the map of solar energy bright spots in the state.” Heie said. “Knowing that there was a lot of individual support for residential solar in our city encouraged us to embark on a project that would benefit a widely popular non-profit thrift store in our community.” Heie is hopeful that folks who have gone solar will also be supportive of his effort.

When complete, the system will total 107 kW. This will be enough solar power to provide about half of the buildings’ energy usage, saving the organization more than $14,000 per year. The group estimates that every dollar donated now could save the organization six dollars over the lifetime of the system. As the group says, donors to the project will receive a matching donation from the sun.

“Over the course of its lifetime, the system is going to free up funds for their programs,” Heie said. “Going solar is a great idea for a nonprofit to free up what they would otherwise be spending on energy bills to use for its programs.”

Secure Futures LLC will own the system for the first five years of its operation. This will allow it to take advantage of federal tax credits to help defray the cost of the system. Gift & Thrift, as a nonprofit, is unable to take advantage of these credits as it has no tax liability. Secure Futures will the then turn ownership of the system over to Gift & Thrift.

Heie says his group has raised about $5000 toward their goal. “We’re really interested in getting small donations from many people,” Heie said. In doing that we getting a lot of people interested and educated about solar.”

The group has set up a fundraising page and a Facebook page about the project.