$1,000 donation nudges Community Kitchen’s solar project along

By Mia Summerson Sentinel Staff Jan 2, 2021

Members of the Keene Clean Energy Team celebrated their more than $1,000 donation to the Keene Community Kitchen last week.           ~photo Andrea Young

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A Keene-based group that advocates for clean-energy accessibility has donated more than $1,000 to assist The Community Kitchen in its plans to install solar panels on its building in Keene.

On Dec. 23, the Keene Clean Energy Team presented The Community Kitchen with a check that will be put toward the planned 150-panel installation at the organization’s Mechanic Street facility, according to a news release from the Clean Energy Team — a grassroots organization that aims to make energy efficiency and renewable resources more accessible.

“Having long promoted clean energy in the Monadnock Region, our team is happy to pass the hat among our members so we could put a little money where our activism is,” Peter Wotowiec, a member of the Clean Energy Team who helped coordinate the donation, said in the release. ”This project will make it easier for the Keene Community Kitchen to feed the hungry, will make the organization more resilient and will produce clean energy for Keene.”

The Community Kitchen is in the process of fundraising for the project with a “sponsor a panel” program, which asks people to contribute $250 to cover the cost of an individual panel, the release said, and the organization has already secured some grant funding as well.

According to Phoebe Bray, executive director at The Community Kitchen, $31,000 had been raised as of this past week.

Bray said the solar installation is part of a $650,000 project that also involves structural work at the facility and work on the bathrooms and office area, among other things. She noted that the 45-kilowatt solar array takes up the majority of the cost.

The Community Kitchen runs two programs — a pantry service and a hot meals program. The hot meals program is available on weeknights and Sunday afternoons to allow members of the community to come in for a well-balanced dinner or lunch, while the pantry program allows people to pick up boxes of food on Wednesdays and  Thursdays. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hot meals program is currently take-out only.

Between January and May, The Community Kitchen served 7,248 families through its pantry program and 8,838 people through its hot meals program, according to the organization’s website.

The news release notes that The Community Kitchen has a large electricity bill, largely due to refrigeration costs. The solar installation, which is expected to be complete by summer, is likely to cut that cost by a third.

“Being in this building is expensive,” Bray said, noting that between January and November the organization paid some $23,600 in energy bills. “I am hoping we can reduce that by 30 percent, which would be phenomenal. Anything that makes … the building more sustainable makes the organization more sustainable.”

The Clean Energy Team said it hopes more clean energy projects will be inspired by the city’s sweeping energy plan, which will soon head to the Keene City Council for final approval.

City officials and members of the community who helped to draft the plan had hoped to see it pass by the end of the year, but some questions arose during the council’s Dec. 17 meeting, causing councilors to send the plan back to committee for further discussion.

The ambitious plan seeks to have the city — including all businesses and residents —transition to 100 percent clean energy for electricity by 2030 and for thermal and transportation by 2050. It stems from goals adopted by the council in January 2019.

“We are so thankful we can participate in this project that will make the Keene Community Kitchen more resilient,” said energy team member Trish Stefanko, who also helped coordinate the donation, in the release. “It brings together a truly happy mix of benefits for our community and environment.”