• WisBusiness

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GreenBiz: Organic Valley and Gundersen cooperate on wind farm

By Gregg Hoffmann
Two organizations that are leaders in their respective fields have combined to start what is being billed as the state’s first “community wind project.”

Organic Valley, an organic dairy cooperative based in La Farge in Vernon County, and Gundersen Health System, based in La Crosse, have started work on the Cashton Greens Wind Farm in Monroe County.

Once complete, the two-turbine wind farm is expected to generate nearly 5 megawatts of energy, enough electricity to power 1,000 homes each year.

Both organizations see the project as being very much part of their respective business visions. “Fostering strong, sustainable rural communities is key to who we are,” said George Siemon, founding farmer and C-E-I-E-I-O of Organic Valley. “We’re particularly proud to establish a long-term renewable energy source right here in the Cashton area, which is not only a sustainable solution for our community, but hopefully also an example for other communities.”

Jeff Rich, executive director of GL Envision LLC, the “green“ wing of Gundersen Health System, echoed Siemon.

“We are pleased to be entering into this partnership with Organic Valley,” said Rich. “The wind farm project is a great thing for our patients and for the community. By reducing our energy costs, we can eventually pass the savings on to our patients in the form of lower healthcare costs.

“In addition, the project creates local construction jobs and has a positive impact on the health of the environment, too. It is a win-win all around.”

The Cashton Greens Wind Farm is billed as the first commercial scale project of its kind in Wisconsin. Wind farms usually are owned by utility or wind development companies, but as developers and owners of the Cashton Greens Wind Farm, Organic Valley and Gundersen will receive income for the energy they generate.

Organic Valley will buy back its portion of energy to offset its footprint through a renewable energy contract with the villages of Cashton and La Farge.

The energy produced by the wind farm should offset electricity used at the Organic Valley Cashton Distribution Center, which is next to the wind farm, and its La Farge headquarters. It will comprise about 5 percent of Gundersen’s energy independence goal.

Roadways, a maintenance facility and other features of the development are expected to be completed before the end of this year. The two turbines for the development are scheduled to be installed in the spring of 2012. Michels Corporation, a contactor based in Brownsville, Wisconsin, will do that installation.

Both Organic Valley and Gundersen have made other commitments to green energy. Organic Valley has installed solar photo-voltaic windows in its new headquarters addition; uses biodiesel in its truck fleet; and has installed solar hot water panels that use the sun to generate hot water for its cheese packaging plant and café.

The co-op also has implemented an On-Farm Sustainability Program as a part of its ongoing effort to educate and assist cooperative farmer-members with implementing energy efficiency measures, both small and large, on their farms.

Methane projects also have been undertaken. “We are partnering with local extension and university personnel to determine the viability of small scale manure digesters, and anticipate feasibility studies on some of our farms this coming year,” according to Organic Valley’s web site. “Additionally, we are working with Stonyfield Farm on a project to reduce methane from cows.”

Organic Valley has invested two seasons growing and researching camelina (a small false flax) and sunflowers. Both of these crops have shown strong promise in test fields as sources for biodiesel fuel.

Through the Envision wing of the organization, Gundersen is developing “a multi-faceted portfolio of innovative sustainability projects intended to lower costs, encourage community partnerships and improve the organization’s environmental footprint, with the goal of becoming 100 percent energy independent by 2014,” according to the company‘s web site.

The Cashton development is one of two wind projects for Gundersen. The health system is also completing a two-turbine wind farm just north of Lewiston, Minn., that is expected to generate nearly 5 megawatts of energy.

A magazine called Practice Greenhealth cited Gundersen last April with inclusion in its “Environmental Leadership Circle.”

“They are the best of the best, the recipients of our top award. Gundersen Lutheran has introduced extensive environmental strategies into health care and is committed to achieving further improvements,” wrote Practice Greenhealth.

A past GreenBiz column was devoted to a partnership between Gundersen and City Brewery, in which methane gas from the brewing process was being converted to electricity.

Corey Zarecki, the project engineer for that partnership, said at the time, ““One reason we have done this is to cut energy costs and move toward our goal of being energy independent by 2014, But, we also feel it is healthy for the community, the right thing for our patients and fits in with being good stewards of the environment.

“You’ve seen the emphasis in the country on the economy, health and energy. We feel this project and our overall goal includes all three.

“The company believes part of the answer (to stemming health care costs) lies in finding solutions to our rapidly rising energy costs.”

-- Hoffmann, a veteran journalist, writes the GreenBiz feature monthly for WisBusiness.com.


Comments: 11

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