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Solar farm with pollinators

Organic Valley will build and seed pollinator-friendly solar farms, such as this one near Downsville, Wis., which has a flowering meadow under and around its panels.

LA FARGE — Organic Valley is moving beyond its initial goal of achieving 100 percent renewable power at its corporate facilities in La Farge and Cashton to share solar power with 13 Midwest communities and energy credits with a California-based natural soap company.

The La Farge-based co-op committed a year ago to the renewable power milestone at its corporate facilities but has since unlocked solar potential beyond its needs, according to a news release from Organic Valley.

Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers, with more than 2,000 members.

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George Siemon

Siemon

That status makes it a natural move to work with rural communities “to create new sources of energy right here at home that can be shared by all,” said George Siemon, one of Organic Valley’s founding farmers who now is the company’s CEO.

“We are committed to achieving 100 percent renewable electricity for our cooperative but also sharing the bounty of solar electricity with rural communities where we live and work,” Siemon said.

In addition to making Organic Valley the largest food company in the world to be 100 percent renewably powered, the solar projects will allow it to share output with Arcadia, Cashton, La Farge, Merrillan and Viola in Wisconsin, and St. Charles in Minnesota, among others.

The communities’ residents will see stable and lower electricity rates and experience environmental benefits of renewable power, according to Organic Valley.

When the projects, which will add a total of 31 megawatts to Wisconsin’s solar power, begin generating power next year, the Arcadia array’s 6.78 megawatts will be the largest such facility in the Badger State, according to Organic Valley.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bronner’s in Vista, Calif., the top-selling natural brand of soap in North America, approached Organic Valley as a kindred spirit to participate in the solar partnership.

Dr. Bronner’s plans to buy renewable energy credits from a project to be built in Lanesboro, Minn., allowing it to become 100 percent renewably powered.

“Dr. Bronner’s is committed to reducing its carbon footprint — from supporting regenerative agriculture to pioneering post-consumer waste packaging to using solar power at our headquarters,” said David Bronner, the company’s cosmic engagement officer.

“Joining Organic Valley and purchasing RECs from its community solar partnership is one more way to move forward in this direction and to honor the Paris Climate Agreement and Spaceship Earth,” Bronner said.

Jonathan Reinbold, Organic Valley’s sustainability director, said the co-op intends to promote additional partnerships.

“As leaders in food and farming, it is our responsibility to pioneer change for good,” Reinbold said. “We want to help others replicate this model around the country and propel more rural communities toward economic stability and energy independence.”

The projects resulted from a collaboration of Organic Valley, OneEnergy Renewables and the participating communities. OneEnergy Renewables is a leading developer of community and utility-scale solar energy projects across the United States.

Organic Valley is a founding member of the Climate Collaborative, an organic industry trade group that convenes businesses to take action and work collaboratively to reverse climate change.

Mike Tighe can be reached at mtighe@lacrossetribune.com, or follow him on Twitter, @necktye.

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