NORWAY — Those walking into Fare Share Co-op may have noticed some changes inside the all-natural grocery store as stakeholders head toward long-term goal of reaching net zero energy consumption for its building.
Right now they’re in the middle of the second phase of a three-phase energy efficiency project to bring the building, situated on Main Street in downtown Norway, in line with its mission in helping build a healthy and sustainable community. The biggest part of phase 2 was to relocate the compressors for the basement and the co-op’s new energy-efficient, LED-lit cooler that now sports a colorful array of fresh produce.
“It is something a grocery store should have,” said General Manager Emmy Andersson.
There’s more work to be done in the basement, which includes insulating the space.
“The goal is to sort of build sort of a wind tunnel down there that can be opened up during the winter time to spread the heat from the compressors in the basement,” she said. “But in the summertime we will have an air intake … so that we can efficiently cool the basement.”
Phase 2 also includes installing insulating film over the windows upstairs, insulating the south wall of the building, along with the ceiling, and making more energy improvements on the walk-in cooler. The goal is to have this phase completed by the end of the year.
“We’re working on buttoning up the building in general,” Andersson said.
The building owned by the co-op is called the Commons and space is rented to three other nonprofits – Center for Ecology-Based Economy, Western Foothills Land Trust and Norway Downtown – along with two counseling services and three other tenants, she said, who are also experiencing the positive effects of the improvements to the building.
Phase 1, which included installation of the heat pumps and LED lighting throughout the co-op’s space, was completed in December 2015 after obtaining the funds, needed to complete the work, from Efficiency Maine.
Prior to this, “they spent thousands of dollars in heat. [The heat pumps are] already proving to be a huge savings for us,” she said.
The co-op is also saving money with the new LED lighting system.
“The old system was crashing bulbs every month at $100 [each],” Andersson said. She added the gas kitchen stove was replaced with a more efficient electric stove which was donated by a board member’s family.
To pay for these projects, Andersson helped secure a $17,500 grant and $34,000 loan from the USDA Rural Development. Andersson also obtained a grant through Cooperative Fund of New England to hire a technical assistance team to streamline processes, including switching over to a new Point Of Sale and accounting system.
The long-term goal of reaching net zero energy is part of the co-op’s five-to-1o-year plan, Andersson said. The most viable way to do this is through solar panels, though she and the board have yet to look into more specifics.
Since she took over in June 2015, Andersson has increased membership at the co-op by 15 percent, or 70 new members, and increased sales over the last two quarters. She’s been able to get more products and a larger variety in the store to fill in gap she felt where products where missing.
“It is really cool to be able to complete what we’ve done so far,” she said. “People are noticing it, too, which is very exciting.”
Andersson noted the board of directors is looking for members with legal and/or accounting skills to join the team. She also invited everyone to the upcoming open meeting set from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 12, at the co-op. It’s for members, those interested in joining and community members as well. A pot luck lunch will be held after the meeting.
“Come ask questions, see what we’ve been doing, where we’re headed, get involved,” Andersson said. “I think Fare Share is such an asset to this community. It would be really exciting to see it bloom.”