Tagged: Local Products

Bright days ahead: The sun rises on another solar farm and more jobs in Vermont – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on August 7, 2011 by - Environment, Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Bright days ahead: The sun rises on another solar farm and more jobs in Vermont

AllSun Tracker panels capture rays at the South Burlington farm. The panels are equipped with wireless and GPS technology that allows them to track the sun's path and generate over 40% more energy.

Nathaniel Gibson

Renewable energy sources are proliferating across Vermont, including wind, hydro, solar, biomass and geothermal projects. Last month, the state’s largest solar farm to date was brought online in South Burlington during a ceremony intended to showcase the array’s technological innovations, the jobs created by such projects and the future of clean energy in Vermont.

The 2.2-megawatt array features 382 5.5-kilowatt panels equipped with GPS and wireless technology so they can orient to the sun’s path. By tracking the sun, the panels can produce over 40 percent more energy compared to traditional fixed-panel solar arrays. This array, the first in North America to use such a configuration, will produce an estimated 2.91 million kilowatts of power annually.

The panels are designed to withstand Vermont weather. After sundown, each panel returns to a horizontal resting position for the night. If snow falls overnight, most will be dumped when the panels resume operation in the morning and tilt to the sun – and the rest will melt as the panels heat up. Internal wind sensors signal the panels to go into their horizontal resting positions during windy conditions to protect them from wind damage.

The panels, AllSun Trackers, are manufactured locally by AllEarth Renewables, Inc., of Williston. Founded in 2005, the company initially focused on manufacturing small-scale wind turbines, but decided a few years later to shift its focus to solar trackers.
Speakers at the July 27 commissioning event included Gov. Peter Shumlin, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Speaker of the House Shap Smith and David Blittersdorf, CEO and founder of AllEarth Renewables.

“This project not only produces renewable energy from the sun; it creates a lot of local jobs,” said Blittersdorf. “We’ve innovated and refined our AllSun Tracker so it can be affordably used to power homes or businesses – and at the same time make up a utility-sized farm like this project in South Burlington.”

The land used for the project is owned by two local developers, Joe Larkin and Patrick Michael, who submitted an application to the Vermont Standard Offer Program. The program assists renewable energy producers by guaranteeing long-term contracts and setting rates that allow them to recoup their initial investment and operating costs. The power generated by the South Burlington farm is being sold back to the Vermont Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program, an initiative managed by the Vermont Electric Power Producers that is designed to encourage the growth of renewable energy in the state by setting goals for renewable energy production. By 2017, the SPEED program aims to generate 20 percent of the state’s energy needs from renewable energy.

After their application was approved, Larkin and Michael began working with AllEarth Renewables, who partnered with many local companies to assist with the installation process. Grennon’s Solderworks of Bristol performed the soldering work for the trackers’ electronics, cable parts were supplied by Foxfire Energy of Chittenden, and metalwork was done by NSA Industries of Lyndonville and North East Precision of St. Johnsbury. Two Williston-based contractors, J.A. Morrissey and Engineers Construction, Inc., provided manpower and expertise for the on-site groundwork as well as the actual mounting and installation of the panels.

Expansion of solar energy sources in the state means an increase in clean energy jobs. “One of the things that’s really great about this solar farm and the work of AllEarth Renewables is the number of jobs that go into such a venture,” says Andrew Savage, the company’s director of communications and public affairs. “It’s exciting for all of us to see clean energy manufacturing and jobs growing within the state.” The company employs 26 full-time staff and 5 seasonal staff and has manufactured and installed over 800 solar tracker systems.

Jeanne Morrissey, president of J.A. Morrissey, spoke emotionally of the significance of such local, collaborative efforts for working class families in this era of economic recession: “To have to have conversations over whether we are going to heat the house or going to feed our kids is a really hard conversation … Jobs mean the ability to stay in a home and raise a family.”

Smaller versions of the AllSun Tracker panels are effective in residential settings. A single 4.1-kilowatt tracker produces about 490 kilowatts per month – greater than half of an average Vermont household’s energy consumption, according to estimates by the Vermont Department of Public Service. The panels are also designed for net metering: The electricity generated is routed first to the owner’s residence or business. Any excess is fed back into the grid and is effectively sold back to the utility in credits as the owner’s electric meter runs backward.

To offset the cost of installing residential systems, AllEarth Renewables offers power purchase agreements. Customers pay a reduced amount of $4,400 up front for the panel and over the next five years pay for the solar power they produce at a cost equal to what they would have paid the electric utility. At the end of the five-year period, customers can renew the agreement for five more years or purchase the panel at fair market value, estimated to be 30 percent of the original price. If a customer decides to purchase the panel, half of the up-front payment ($2,200) is credited towards the purchase.

Each panel is equipped with a wireless reporting system that transmits daily data on energy production. This data provides current owners with information about their own trackers’ production and also allows prospective owners to gauge the production that they can expect.

Encouraged by the demand for solar technology within the state, AllEarth Renewables is planning to expand beyond Vermont. The company hopes that out-of-state demand will allow it to increase manufacturing capacity and hire more employees while remaining rooted in Vermont.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted via www.nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
July 7, 2011

From Stump to Consumer: Many Forest Products Take the Long Road to Customers – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

From Stump to Consumer:  Many Forest Products Take the Long Road to Customers (part 2 of 2)

Nathaniel Gibson

Woodworking, a key industry in Vermont for centuries, is a significant part of the state’s economy. Some environmental considerations include the practices of the loggers and mills harvesting it, as well as where the timber comes from. Timber that travels farther has a bigger carbon footprint. In recent years, various certification standards have been developed to certify lumber as sustainable or “green,” such as those developed by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forest Initiative. The Leadership in Energy Environmental Design certification system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for construction of green buildings.

Ideally, a house would be constructed with local lumber that was either FSC- or SFI-certified and built to LEED specifications. But this process can present some challenges.

J.K. Adams, a manufacturer of wooden kitchenware and furniture in Dorset, was one of the first companies in the industry to be FSC-certified, even though the cost of that certification required the company to raise its prices.

It also had to confront the logistical challenge of isolating FSC-certified lumber from non-FSC-certified lumber.

Maple Landmark Furniture of Middlebury, another company that faced challenges operating under FSC guidelines, eventually dropped its FSC certification because it was very difficult to get certified lumber from local sources.

More FSC-certified lumber is available now – but not consistently.

Tim Copeland of Copeland Furniture in Bradford reports that it is relatively easy to get FSC-certified maple, but some other species, such as walnut, are much more difficult to find.

FSC certification, oriented toward large forests, is costly to obtain. Much of the forest land in Vermont is in small parcels, so each 10- to 25-acre lot must be certified.

Consequently a landowner with a small woodlot often cannot justify the cost of certification, even if that woodlot is being managed in a sustainable manner consistent with FSC requirements.

And unlike some other states, Vermont has not obtained FSC certification for its state forests.

To address this problem, pilot programs are under way to eventually confer FSC status to local foresters who work with small landowners in the state. These foresters could extend FSC status to the people they work with at a much lower cost compared with normal FSC certification.

Other certification systems that are less expensive to obtain – such as the American Tree Farm System – are available.

One of the issues with LEED guidelines, according to Kevin Hastings of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, is that they can dictate the use of nonlocal materials.

For instance, LEED guidelines sometimes require that certain materials used in building construction contain certain percentages of post-consumer-materials recycled content.

In Vermont and many other parts of the Northeast, these materials must be trucked in from distant producers. The carbon emissions generated by trucks as they transport LEED materials to work sites increases the carbon footprint of these “green” materials.

“There’s such a disconnect between the goods we use and where they come from,” observes Malcolm Cooper, president of J.K. Adams.

A LEED-compliant set of cabinets may not be as green as it seems, when the carbon footprint associated with transporting that product is considered. A different set of cabinets that is not LEED-certified might actually be more green, if made by a local woodworker who purchased the lumber from a neighbor’s sawmill that harvested its timber in accordance with sustainable practices.

As Mike Rainville, owner of Maple Landmark Woodcraft, says, “It doesn’t make sense to bring lumber in from 300 miles away when it’s in your backyard.”

Chris Olson, Addison County forester for the Agency of Natural Resources, agrees. Olson points out that harvesting practices in the developed world have largely evolved to the point where many of the related environmental concerns have been mitigated – or at least are addressed by regulations that may or may not be enforced.

Olson notes, “There are forest practices acts, acceptable management practices for protecting water quality, timber harvesting laws and regulations, water quality laws and regulations, FSC, SFI, and many other checks and balances for what happens near the stump. And then we have free trade and all the globalization trends that encourage goods to travel long distances. I would ask these questions: ‘What forest product did you use today? Where’s the stump? Where was it processed and manufactured?'”

Olson describes a typical scenario: “Trees are cut from stumps in Pawlet, limbed and skidded to be loaded onto a truck; trucked to a concentration yard in West Pawlet or Granville, N.Y., trucked or railed to a port, unloaded, loaded onto a ship, shipped across at least one ocean, unloaded, trucked to a concentration yard, unloaded, reloaded onto a truck or rail car, unloaded into a processing plant, sawn, loaded onto a forklift, stuck into a kiln, reloaded onto a truck or rail, unloaded at a furniture plant, manufactured into component parts, boxed, reloaded, trucked or rail freighted again, shipped back across an ocean and then trucked to a big box store. And then I go to that store and buy a chair and assemble it about 30 miles from the stump.”

Local sawmills are closing. David Williams, owner of Champlain Hardwood in Essex Junction, reports that Lakewood Lumber, a big sawmill near Syracuse, N.Y., recently closed because of poor profits and high overseas competition.

Vermont is exporting a larger portion of raw product than ever before.

“Pretty soon we might be exporting more unprocessed high-grade logs – with the bark still on – than we’d have the capacity to saw here in Vermont,” Olson said.

For more information on the link between local wood product producers and Vermont’s environment and working landscape, see the first article in this series, “From forests to furniture: Vermont woodworking businesses tie into the local landscape,” which was published Jan. 16.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at ng@nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
March 6, 2011