High school student gets solar industry partners to donate full PV system to a New Jersey food pantry

Flemington Food Pantry_Logos2

The Flemington Area Food Pantry, serving Hunterdon County, N.J., celebrated and unveiled their brand new solar array installation this week — a project was made possible by a collaborative donation effort among 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.”

Who helped? 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 percent increase in their clientele. According to Ms. 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.”

Donations to the Flemington Area Food Pantry are greatly appreciated; please visit the donation page.

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,” Mr. Kuster remarked.

The advanced thin-film solar modules were donated by First Solar, Inc., America’s Solar Company. Founded in 1999, the Arizona-headquartered company operates the Western Hemisphere’s largest solar manufacturing footprint in Northwestern Ohio. It is also the sole American company amongst the world’s nine largest solar manufacturers. The modules used in the installation were designed and developed at the company’s research and development (R&D) centers in California and Ohio, and boast the lowest environmental footprint in the industry.

OMCO Solar, a community and utility-scale OEM of solar tracker and racking solutions, mounted the pantry’s array. Aligning with their internal “OMCO Cares” program, 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. Based in Germany but also operational in the United States, SMA has been distributing top of the line PV inverters and innovating in intelligent energy management for 30 years.

Pro Circuit Electrical Contracting installed the array, donating all of the electrical and general labor. The team in Flemington, N.J. are leading contractors, specializing in commercial and industrial solar electrical work.

“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.”

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