Swapping out an old furnace at the food bank doesnt sound like a lifesaving project. But when you consider Community Harvest Food Banks vital mission – especially in this economy – a renovation that will allow the charity to spend more money on food rather than heat comes close.
An upcoming project to install an energy-efficient geothermal system at Community Harvests north building will allow the non-profit to save significant energy costs, thereby feeding more hungry people.
The hardest thing for us – or any non-profit – is to raise money for operating costs, said Jane Avery, executive director of Community Harvest Food Bank. Most donors want their dollars to go for bricks-and-mortar projects, things they can see.
When we can save a significant portion on our operating costs, she said, thats huge because that opens up dollars we can spend on direct mission projects, like expanding our Senior Pack program. Nothing against the utility company, but Id rather just feed hungry people. That savings will help us spend more on our direct mission.
The food bank began a $5 million capital campaign in September 2010. The goal is to reduce hunger by 50 percent in five years.
Avery said it has raised $3.5 million within the last 17 months. The money is paying to expand the food banks operations and significantly renovate both the food banks south building, at 999 E. Tillman Road, and its newest building at 1010 Coliseum Blvd. N.
The Azar family donated the Coliseum building, along with $200,000 in cash, to Community Harvest in 2007. The 37,000-square-foot building serves as a cold-storage warehouse and increases the food banks capacity to preserve donated food.
A storage building that size eats a lot of energy, Avery said. When youre working with perishable product, you cant just say, Well just cut back the thermostat. Struggling people dont need to worry about getting sick because the food wasnt handled right.
The non-profit food bank has to follow the same strict standards for handling and storing perishable food as a commercial grocery.
Community Harvest leaders decided they wanted the overhaul of the building to be as environmentally friendly and efficient as possible.
Because the heating and air-conditioning system at the south building is relatively new, it didnt make sense financially to update it, said Ron Dick, an architect and co-owner of Design Collaborative, the company responsible for the master planning for the entire Community Harvest project. But it makes a lot of sense to invest in geothermal energy at the north building.
Design Collaborative is a longtime sponsor of Community Harvest Food Banks annual CANstruction competition, which raises money for the food bank.
Were basically taking the entire engineering system offline so the heating and air-conditioning will be completely replaced with a geothermal system, Dick said. Its a green product, its a sustainable product that pays for itself fairly quickly with energy savings and lower operational costs.
Monthly utility bills, including gas, water and electricity, for the food banks north building run about $5,000. And were not running at full bore right now, Avery said.
The geothermal system is expected to reduce the energy bill up to 70 percent.
Within six years we will realize enough savings to equalize the investment in just that portion of the project, Avery said.
If geothermal is truly so environmentally friendly and efficient and the savings are so impressive, why doesnt everybody install geothermal in homes and businesses?
Therein lies the rub, said Rich Conkling, director of commercial sales for WaterFurnace Renewable Energy Inc. First there are the physical aspects of the land requirement. In an urban environment, you may not have the space to do it.
The second factor is cost. Anytime youre talking about a significant excavation project, its a significant investment. In this economy people are very cautious about any outlay of that magnitude. Especially for something they cant pick up and move and take with them. Thats why not everybody and their brother have one – because not everyone and their brother can afford the upfront costs.
The cost estimate for the food banks system is $450,000 to $500,000.
According to Avery, the Geothermal Green Energy Investment Project would not be possible without a $100,000 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation.
She also gives a lot credit to WaterFurnace. They are an industry leader. They are the original geothermal providers. And the Shields family (owners of WaterFurnace) has been good friends of the food bank for years and years.
We probably see it more in the residential market than the commercial market, Dick said of geothermal conversions. Thats probably a regional thing because of the relatively low cost of natural gas and electricity here. But we are using geothermal more and more as clients become more savvy about green build and sustainability.
Conkling agreed, saying the average cost of electricity here is about 10 to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. But when WaterFurnace was working on a project in California several years ago, he noticed the cost for electricity was 18 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost of water was also higher.
As energy and water becomes more expensive, youll see more of these types of systems being utilized, he said.