How Meals on Wheels People and PGE Power Sustainable Innovation | Meals on Wheels People

How Meals on Wheels People and PGE Power Sustainable Innovation

Rendering of new building on 82nd Ave

The $608,000 infusion from PGE’s Renewable Development Fund to Meals on Wheels People not only reinforces a partnership built on innovation but also sets a new benchmark for community-focused environmental stewardship.

At Meals on Wheels People, sustainability isn’t a buzzword — it’s baked into our identity. From launching a large-scale composting program to purchasing electric vehicles for meal delivery and implementing energy-efficient systems, we’ve woven environmental stewardship into the fabric of our operations, earning us a spot among Oregon’s 100 Best Green Workplaces since 2021.

A transformative partnership with Portland General Electric (PGE) is one of the things that has propelled Meals on Wheels People (MOWP) into the forefront of environmental innovation. In January 2024, PGE announced it is awarding MOWP $608,000 through its PGE Renewable Development Fund, made possible by PGE Green Future customers, to install a cutting-edge photovoltaic and battery storage system at our new building under construction at 4035 SE 82nd Ave. This system will offer our new location a true resiliency hub to the community.

“Working with PGE has been invaluable to our sustainability journey,” says MOWP Administrative Project Manager Kristin Mueller, who has spearheaded the nonprofit’s relationship with PGE since 2018. “We have been using their programs over the past 20 years in various aspects of our facility. PGE programs offer a way to develop and put into practice leading tech and industry developments that are available, but the high costs would normally make them unachievable. Investigating with PGE what funding is available for projects that will lead to significantly lower costs in utilities for the organization means more money for meals. PGE works with us directly to benefit our mission because they know that money we can save through upgrades directly benefits our community and the seniors we serve for years into the future.”

The foundation for a greener future was laid in 2003 with the construction of our first facility, the Central Office and Central Kitchen in Multnomah Village. Adhering to PGE’s Earth Advantage guidelines, we achieved certification for the site, marking our initial steps toward sustainability. This commitment to sustainable practices set the stage for a transformative collaboration.

Driving Change Together

MOWP received the grant in 2019 from PGE that allowed us to purchase two electric vehicles.

In 2018, our partnership with PGE grew to a new level when it invited MOWP to apply for the PGE Drive Change Fund, a program made possible through the Oregon Clean Fuels Program, which awards money to projects to help electrify transportation in Oregon. “We prioritize initiatives that will benefit underserved communities, and Meals on Wheels perfectly aligns with our goals,” says PGE’s Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Impact Kregg Arntson. MOWP received the grant in 2019, which allowed us to purchase two electric vehicles, including a 100% electric van with a refrigeration unit powered by solar energy, the first of its kind in the nation. We were also able to install electric vehicle charging stations at Central Office, marking a significant leap toward reducing emissions. “Using an EV helps MOWP continue to have a positive impact on the lives of people in our community while reducing emissions and air pollution in the areas they serve,” Kregg says.

The ambition didn’t stop there. PGE offered guidance on emerging programs, visited our sites with energy specialists, paved the way for programs with Energy Trust of Oregon, and consulted with us regarding commercial battery programs, net metering, and intergrid connectivity.

“The staff is always so helpful and responsive,” MOWP’s Kristin Mueller says. “The best part is they know the world of sustainability so well that they can connect with one another for programs, brainstorming challenges, answering questions. The PGE staff is great about seeking input from other programs, sharing ideas, and truly collaborating toward our mission.”

Through a referral from PGE’s energy specialist, we qualified for a no-cost LED lighting upgrade at our Central Office and Central Kitchen, which were installed in fall 2023.

“Meals on Wheels People has been very receptive to new ideas like lighting improvements, transportation electrification projects, solar panel and battery installation, as well as behaviors that help them shift their energy use during times of peak demand,” says PGE’s Senior Business Customer Outreach Manager Greg Meyer. “This willingness to adopt a wide range of programs and products demonstrates MOWP’s environmental leadership.”

Building a Sustainable Future

MOWP Administrative Project Manager Kristin Mueller, who has spearheaded the relationship with PGE since 2018, reviews plans for the new building on 82nd Avenue.

Meals on Wheels People is currently renovating the building on 82nd Avenue in the Jade District to address the growing need in our community. Once renovations are complete in late 2025, this additional space will allow us to enhance our meal production capabilities, deepen our social programming, strengthen our community partnerships, better serve communities living in east Portland, and respond quickly and effectively during man-made or natural disasters.

Understanding the critical importance of sustainability and resilience in today’s world, we applied for and received funding through the PGE Renewable Development Fund to install the solar and battery storage system. With the capacity to generate solar energy and store up to 512kWh, this system will not only support our operations but also contribute to broader grid stability through PGE’s grid interconnectivity programs.

We are installing a similar solar and battery storage system for emergency food storage backup at our Central Kitchen, a project fully funded by a grant from the Portland Clean Energy Fund. Prior to this, during power outages, we were only able to continue storage, production, and distribution of meals with a diesel generator for a period of eight hours before needing to refuel. Installing solar panels on the roof with battery backup allows us to provide essential services longer using clean energy and reduce the burden of ever-increasing energy prices, allowing us to funnel savings back into the meals and programs we know are vital in our community.

“Combined solar and battery storage systems provide great benefits to both the organization and the larger electric grid,” says PGE’s Kregg Arntson. “This kind of system allows Meals on Wheels to produce power during sunny days and store that energy for later use, such as in the evening or even during a local power outage. Community leaders adopting solar plus storage are also bringing additional flexibility and resiliency to the power grid.”

Once installed, Meals on Wheels People will have the largest battery ever enrolled, to date, in PGE’s Energy Partner On Demand program, which shifts energy use during “Peak Time Events” throughout the year when there are higher strains on the electric grid — like hot afternoons or cold morning. MOWP will make approximately $8,000 a year from participating in Energy Partner On Demand with battery storage. We’ll also save over $3,400 a year from energy efficiency improvements and related fuel costs. Cost savings on electricity makes more of our funds available to purchase food and provide services for our participants and allows us to have greater ability to keep up with increasing food costs and to continue providing our services without ever having a waitlist.

“Keeping a partnership with your local utility company and seeking funding for sustainability upgrades is vital to being able to maximize resources,” Kristin says. “PGE works with us directly to benefit our mission because they know that money we can save through upgrades directly benefits our community and the seniors we serve for years into the future.”

Uniting for Impact

PGE transcends the traditional role of a utility partner by embedding itself into the Meals on Wheels People’s mission through both financial support and hands-on volunteerism. Since 2019, PGE’s annual giving campaign has successfully raised over $34,000 for MOWP. Moreover, the spirit of volunteerism thrives among PGE employees, with 140 individuals contributing over 670 hours of their time to further the mission of Meals on Wheels People.

Our partnership with Portland General Electric exemplifies how compassion, innovation, and environmental responsibility can intersect to create a more sustainable and nourishing future for all. As MOWP continues to serve as a cornerstone in the lives of seniors, its journey with PGE shines as a testament to what can be achieved when organizations unite for the greater good.

Corporate partnerships are vital to enabling MOWP to continue providing nutritious meals, social support, and emergency services to those in need, especially the older members of our community. By aligning with us, companies and organizations can make a substantial difference through volunteer opportunities, financial contributions, and sustainable initiatives.

To explore how your company can become a part of this meaningful journey, visit our Corporate Partnership page. Together, we can nourish lives, foster community resilience, and build a more sustainable future.

Sign Up

Stay up to date with the latest news!