Tagged: Vermont

Buying the farm: Vermont Land Trust partners with Wells to conserve farm — Montpelier-Barre Times Argus Article

Posted on September 13, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Delaney Farm Wells

The Vermont Land Trust and the Town of Wells partnered to conserve 300 acres of scenic farm and forestland.

Buying the farm: Vermont Land Trust partners with Wells to conserve farm

Nathaniel Gibson

According to the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s report on the future of Vermont, Vermonters rank “the working landscape and its heritage” more highly as a common value than any other. But practical realities are pulling in the opposite direction. The council predicts that if current trends continue, today’s working landscape will not exist for the next generation. A recent conservation effort in the town of Wells, located in southwestern Vermont, is bucking that trend. The Vermont Land Trust has partnered with the local community to conserve the Delaney farm, a picturesque parcel of over 300 acres of farmland, forest and frontage on Lake St. Catherine.

Since 1977, VLT has been working to preserve the Vermont landscape. To date, the nonprofit has permanently conserved over 1,650 parcels of land covering over 500,000 acres – about 8 percent of the private, undeveloped land in the state. The parcels include more than 700 working farms and hundreds of thousands of acres of forestland, as well as community parks and recreational areas.

Since coming to VLT in 2002, Donald Campbell, southwest regional director for VLT, had been receiving inquiries about the possibility of conserving the Delaney farm, given its choice lakeside location and natural beauty.

The Delaney estate put the farm on the market in the spring of 2010, after the previous owners Joan and Charlotte Delaney passed away in 2008 and 2006, respectively. Given the parcels’ quality, VLT and the Wells Select Board agreed that VLT should try to secure the land while the town raised the funds to purchase portions of it back for community use.

“This is an iconic piece of property,” says Select Board member Rich Strange. “The town doesn’t have any access to the lake, so that was one of the big things we were looking for.”

VLT typically preserves land through conservation easements wherein the organization purchases the rights to future development or subdivision from property owners. Property owners can use the land for farming, forestry, education and other activities that sustain the property, or sell it whenever they wish. When the land changes hands, the conservation easement remains tied to the property, ensuring that the land will be protected in perpetuity.

Delaney Farm Map

A map of the Delaney parcel shows the portions to be used for community forest, recreation, and farming.

Because of the time constraints and significance of this property, VLT used capital from a revolving fund and offered $700,000, which was accepted, and took ownership on July 1, 2010. The Select Board then had time to involve its residents, many of whom were already strong supporters of the project, in the process of deciding how to use it. The land was subsequently divided into five parcels: a 105-acre farmland parcel, a 17-acre shoreline parcel, a 170-acre wooded parcel, and two small house lots that VLT is selling to individuals.

The farmland parcel is under contract to Rico and Jill Balzano, through VLT’s farmland access program. The Balzanos have dubbed the land “Little Lake Orchard” and plan to offer community supported agriculture shares and pick-your-own options that will be a source of local food and allow people to walk the land and enjoy its views. Prospective crops include apples, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, plums, apricots and pears.

The 17-acre shoreline parcel will be conserved as a community recreational area. “Part of the Select Board’s vision was that the town might own part of the lake frontage and create a public recreation area for all members of the community to picnic, boat and enjoy the lake up close,” reports Campbell. The town hopes that the property will be an example of sustainable lakefront management minimizing environmental hazards, such as runoff.

The 170-acre wooded parcel, a diverse piece of land featuring a sphagnum bog and multiple vernal pools, could be used for recreation, forestry and education. The Delaney sisters had allowed local residents to hunt on their property, another potential use.

The success of local fund-raising and widespread support for the project among Wells residents have impressed Strange. “The town is thankful that the community has been behind this project the whole way – even though we have had to move fairly quickly,” he reports. Strange hopes that the project will continue to bring residents together as they start using and enjoying it in upcoming months.

When partnering with municipalities, VLT typically requires a management plan with public input. The Select Board will hold a series of public meetings this fall to develop plans for the shoreline and wooded parcels. VLT will retain conservation easements on the parcels, with provisions tailored to the intended uses of the respective areas.

“Working with VLT has been great,” Strange says. “They have the experience and know what works and what doesn’t.”

The project has received support from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, an independent state funding agency that is granting $253,500 to VLT for purchase of a conservation easement on the farm parcel. Roughly half this amount is federal funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service administered by VHCB.

VHCB is also granting $91,000 to Wells for purchase of the forest and shoreline parcels. These grants – combined with approximately $170,000 raised by the town, private foundations and individuals and the bargain prices at which VLT is offering the parcels – should allow the town and the Balzanos to assume ownership of their respective properties by early fall.

Campbell notes that the state is getting a lot of value for its support because of significant matching funds that have been leveraged from federal agencies and more local sources. And the end result – conservation of community land – is a reward beyond measure.

“The Wells community has really been there for us and involved with the process,” observes Campbell. “VLT is there to help communities, but we need to have communities saying what they want.”

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet and may be contacted at www.nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
September 11, 2011

More than solar at this fest: Annual SolarFest event celebrates sustainable living and more – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on July 31, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Volunteers for Peace Performance during SolarFest 2010

The Volunteers for Peace perform a Skit on the main stage during SolarFest 2010.

More than solar at this fest:  Annual SolarFest event celebrates sustainable living and more

Nathaniel Gibson

To call SolarFest a renewable energy festival doesn’t really do justice to this unique annual event at Forget-Me-Not Farm in Tinmouth, scheduled this summer for the weekend of July 15 to 17. It is indeed a celebration, one that combines learning the skills required to cope with a changing environment in the context of a beautiful natural setting, with plenty of good food and entertainment thrown in. But it’s much more than a fun learning experience. SolarFest is a process that has brought families, communities and even countries together for almost an entire generation now.

Since its beginning 17 years ago, SolarFest has matured from a small gathering of 200 to an event that attracts thousands of attendees. Despite its growth, the festival continues to draw all its power, including power for the sound and lights on the main stage, from renewable sources.  This year, in recognition of the organization’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability, SolarFest was awarded the 2011 Governor’s Award for environmental excellence.

SolarFest will mark its seventeenth anniversary this summer by offering, as always, timely information on the latest developments in renewable energy resources, coupled with great entertainment, all kinds of food and lots of activities for children. This year’s keynote speaker is Jeffery Wolfe, CEO and Chairman of groSolar, one of the largest installers of residential solar power systems in the country. The lineup of musical acts includes Jon Cleary’s Philthy Phew, Lynn Miles, Peter Mulvey, Antje Duvekot, Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck, and Roomful of Blues.

Attendees will be able to choose from more than 80 different workshops over the course of the weekend, organized thematically into five tracks. Just a few sample workshops are: Net-Metered PV Systems (renewable energy track), High Performance Natural Buildings for Cold Climates (green building track), Fossil Fuel Free Farming (sustainable agriculture track), Life After Vermont Yankee (thriving locally track), and Climate Change 101 (solar generation youth track).

Frequent tours are offered to introduce key features of the festival, such as the informational panels and the on-site renewable energy system — which even incorporates solar hot water showers. The week preceding SolarFest a photovoltaic workshop serves the dual purpose of providing a hands-on learning opportunity and getting the renewable energy system set up.

A unique and popular event is the SolarFest theater-in-the-woods production. This year’s play, written by SolarFest president Melody Squier, incorporates themes of local and sustainable living as it tells the tale of Tinmouth’s 250-year history. Directing the play is Melody’s son Wheaton Squier, who attended his first SolarFest event when he was only a child and has been helping out ever since.

Wheaton has watched the festival grow steadily over the years. In addition to relaying messages and equipment, parking cars and helping his father Marshall with event security, he has also been a previous member of the theater-in-the-woods cast. His first stint as director was at last year’s SolarFest. He says, “It was my first time directing, and I wasn’t sure what the experience would be like, but we had a great cast and lots of fun. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to this year — we have another great group of young actors and actresses.”

Rehearsals for the theater-in-the-woods begin about a month before the event, along with all the other necessary preparations for the festival. Volunteerism is vital, with more than 300 volunteers from all over the world assisting each year. The volunteers collaborate to transform Forget-Me-Not Farm from a working 80-acre therapeutic horse farm into a festival site — work that typically involves a lot of haying, mowing and weed-whacking, as well as posting of all the signage. Beyond the initial preparations, volunteers also run the festival and break it down when it is over.

“People come back year after year,” says Wheaton. “I’ve been involved as long as I can remember, and I think that being so close to a large, community and volunteer-run organization is a really important part of my life. It’s always nice to work together with lots of people and have the reward be this amazing festival.”

The volunteers typically include about 10 members of Volunteers for Peace, an organization that promotes international volunteerism as a means of community development, intercultural education and service learning. These volunteers usually show up around the July 4 weekend, about 10 to 14 days before the festival, and help transform Forget-Me-Not Farm to SolarFest. Typical projects include picking up fencing, building the stage, damming up the nearby river by hand to create a swimming hole and cleaning the barn.

For some volunteers this is their first visit to the United States, and these visitors often comment that their experience in Tinmouth defies many of their stereotypical beliefs about life in this country. Long-lasting friendships are formed as the work progresses, and many of the Volunteers for Peace return to help out in subsequent years.

The Squier family in turn has traveled to Spain, France, Canada, England, and Italy to visit some of their SolarFest friends. “The relationships we have built with the volunteers feel very much like family and going to their homes feels that way as well. It is always wonderful to travel, but to be hosted with such love is something much more,” says Wheaton.

Anyone interested in volunteering for SolarFest can sign up at the SolarFest Web site www.solarfest.org, which also has information about the full schedule of events for the weekend.

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 3, 2011

A New Kind of Farm Reaps Harvest Year-Round — Rutland Herald Article

Posted on May 29, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Ferrisburgh Solar Farm

An aerial view of the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm. Lake Champlain can be seen in the distance. The site resembles a map of Vermont, which was completely unplanned.

A New Kind of Farm Reaps Harvest Year-Round

Nathaniel Gibson

The future of clean energy in Vermont brightened considerably last fall when the largest solar project in the state to date came online. The Ferrisburgh Solar Farm, located along Route 7 in Addison County, consists of nearly 4,000 ground-mounted photovoltaic panels capable of generating up to one megawatt of electricity during sunny days – enough to power 170 Vermont homes. Site developers Brian Waxler and Ernie Pomerleau waited a year to obtain the necessary permits, but construction of the facility took only three months. Sustainability was a key design consideration. Because the solar farm is located on prime agricultural land, the installation was designed to be low impact. All of the installed structures are completely removable. Once the site ceases to produce solar power it can readily be returned to cultivate more conventional crops.

Unlike crops from more traditional Vermont farms, the power from the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm is harvested year round. Consequently snow cover was another important design consideration. The tilt angle of the solar panels was set at 30 degrees – enough to allow snow to slide off without casting shadows on adjacent panels. “The panels actually warm up due to their dark color and also from the sun naturally melting snow, like on a roof that faces south,” explains Pomerleau. Additionally, the panels have four feet of ground clearance to keep them free of any snow that slides off. This design was put to the test with record snowfalls over the winter. On days when the panels were covered with deep snow or caked with crusty snow or ice, they cleared off when the sun came out.

Waxler and Pomerleau hope that the project will spur further advances in solar technology by driving up the demand for photovoltaic panels. Such advances actually occurred even before the solar farm went online. Its original design called for the installation of 5,200 panels to generate the goal of one megawatt of power, but due to the rapid pace of technological development during design and construction, only 3,806 panels were actually required to meet that goal.

Despite such technological improvements, photovoltaic technology still requires government assistance to make it a worthwhile investment.

The solar farm benefited from federal tax incentives as well as two Vermont state programs. The first, Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) Program, was established in 2005 to encourage the growth of renewable energy projects. It sets a minimum goal of generating 5 percent of Vermont’s 2005 energy demand or 294,283 megawatt-hours from renewable energy and an additional goal of providing enough renewable energy by 2017 to meet 20 percent of the state’s energy needs.

The second initiative, Vermont’s Standard Offer Program, was designed to promote the development of the renewable energy resources needed to meet the goals set forth by the SPEED Program. The Standard Offer Program aids renewable energy producers by guaranteeing long-term contracts and rates that allow them to recover their initial investment and operating costs. Through this program, Green Mountain Power of Colchester agreed to purchase the power generated by the solar farm.

Without such guaranteed rates, renewable energy producers would be unable to compete with energy from traditional, non-renewable sources – fossil fuels and nuclear power. But as the technology for manufacturing photovoltaic panels develops, solar installation projects on the scale of the Ferrisburgh facility will be able to succeed without government incentives. Pomerleau anticipates that such technological improvements will occur within the next 10 years.

Beyond providing power, the solar farm also offers unique educational opportunities for Vermont students. At neighboring Vergennes Union High School, science teacher Mark Powers has adapted the curriculum of his ninth-grade earth and space science class to take advantage of having a full-scale solar project next door. Powers appreciates how the developers reached out to him during facility construction and included him in the process. “Ernie and his whole crew have been awesome,” he says.

Now that the solar farm is completed, Powers is provided with a data feed that includes incoming solar radiation, power generation and several other real-time parameters. Students thus have a unique opportunity to study the relationship between weather conditions and solar power generation. “Weather is the only scientific news that the media reports every day,” Powers observes. “I’m trying to get kids to understand that weather is not just what you wear, but also has tie-ins with concepts such as renewable energy.”

Students collect daily weather data, including cloud cover and precipitation patterns, and look for correlations with the data from the solar farm. Students also make use of solar kits to simulate how varying the angle of solar panels and changing other variables can affect power output.

Powers has also been coordinating his work with the Satellites, Weather and Climate Program at the University of Vermont so that the techniques that he has formulated can be made available to other schools.

Visitors are welcome anytime at the solar farm’s visitor center and education kiosk. A public view Web site provides real-time visualization of measures such as power generation, weather conditions and environmental offsets, including the amount of CO2 emissions that the project has avoided.

The Ferrisburgh Solar Farm is not only a large-scale demonstration of solar power – it also is an example of how local residents can become involved in the process. Waxler and Pomerleau say that one of the most rewarding parts of the project has been the support that it has received from the community.

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

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
May 29, 2011