There was neither ribbon nor cutting at Cronig’s in Vineyard Haven last Friday morning, but rather two parts uniting, as Paul Pimentel of Edgartown plugged his all-electric Nissan Leaf into a charging station beneath the solar canopies in the grocery store’s parking lot.
A round of applause and cheers of “Hooray!” went up from the group of forty or so onlookers as Mr. Pimentel became the first official user of the canopies, the result of a collaboration between Vineyard Power, South Mountain Company and Cronig’s Markets. After two years of planning, construction began on the canopies in April. The first stage of the project, canopies in the back parking lot of Healthy Additions, was finished last month. Work begins on the next stage, in the main parking lot, after Labor Day.
When completed, the canopies will produce 210 kilowatts of electricity, enough to meet more than a quarter of Cronigs’ demand (the equivalent of powering 35 homes). The panels are produced by Solaire. It is the first commercially-visible project completed by Vineyard Power; previous solar installations took place at private homes. The cooperative’s next project will be a photovoltaic solar array at the Aquinnah landfill; additionally, Vineyard Power is looking a bit further down the road to a different source of alternative energy: wind turbines.
Vineyard Power currently has over 1,300 members. President Richard Andre said that the co-op had a great summer, with interest being sparked by the construction of the canopies.
“It’s just phenomenal,” Mr. Andre told the Gazette after the official plug-in. “It’s exciting to see that we’ve actually pulled it off.”
During the ceremony, Mr. Andre thanked the many community members who had given their support to the project, beginning with Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier — “just a fantastic community-minded visionary ”— and ending with Paul Watts of Edgartown National Bank.
“We started to do community,” Mr. Bernier told the gathering. “Not Republican, not Democrat: community.”
“If we’re going to be visionaries we have to look ahead,” he said. “There’s all kind of opportunities and it would be nice to take this community places.”
“I think what we’re really celebrating is a tendency on the Vineyard to think global and act local,” South Mountain Company president and chief executive officer John Abrams said. Before the canopies were installed, he continued, the Cronig’s lot served three purposes: temporary storage for cars, a place for conversation and a place for Mr. Bernier to practice his broom and dustpan skills. But with the new installation, the lot offers three additional functions: shade, protection from the weather, and the six charging stations tucked away.
Mr. Abrams noted that the 4,000 square miles of parking lots in the United States could provide electricity for half the country if each was outfitted with a solar canopy.
“This is good business; it’s good for the planet,” he said.
State Sen. Dan Wolf also stopped by to witness the historic event. Mr. Wolf is the founder and CEO of Cape Air, which has one of the largest solar arrays in the region at its Hyannis home base.
“This is the model,” Senator Wolf said. “It is so cool for me, it is so energizing for me to go up to the state house [with this example].”
“All the kids who are going to shop here . . . that’s their new normal, that’s their expectation,” he said.
Mr. Pimentel’s electric car goes 125 miles, or about three days of Island driving, per charge; each charge takes about seven hours.
“They make great sense on this Island,” he said after plugging in. Mr. Pimentel is one of two Vineyard Power board members to own an electric car, the other being Ted Bayne of West Tisbury.
Also on hand for the ceremony was seasonal resident Barry Maser of New Jersey, who brought his own electric car, a BMW prototype.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Once you drive an electric car you’ll never want to drive anything else.”