Posts By: Nathaniel Gibson

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

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

Rock The Bells

Posted on April 18, 2011 by - Fiction

The rain was beating down.  It had been for awhile.  Hunched up against a chain link fence, the boy – he couldn’t have been more than 20 – shivered.  It was actually more than a shiver, incorporating both trembles and slight spasms.  He was wearing a white ‘beater and brown shorts.  The ‘beater was closer to the color of the shorts than its original white.   Mud was abundant at Rock the Bells.  So were substances.  The boy blamed both for his pathetic state.  He staggered to his feet and relieved himself against the fence, still shaking.

Two kids came up to the chain link, looking for a way into the concert.  They were trying to rip apart the chain link, but then they saw him pissing on the fence and lost interest.  He slumped back to the ground – in his own piss, he realized.  “Fuck!”  But he was too out of it to care or move.  At least it was a little warmer than the cold mud.  He remembered getting some fun-looking pills from someone a few hours – or was it more than that?  Days? – ago and taking them.  The only things he really remembered since then were hazy sequences in the mosh pit.  People falling over.   Crowdsurfers.  A boot coming at his head.  He rubbed it, it hurt a lot.  At least it wasn’t bleeding anymore.  Soon he passed out in the mud, still shivering and soaked as the concert went on around him.  He dreamed strange, terrible dreams.

Hours later he woke up coughing.  It had stopped raining.  A bit of blue sky was poking through the steel-grey clouds, streaks of mercury floating on a stormy sea.  Flava Flav was yelling at some girl to show him her titties.  She did.  The late evening sun came out through the clouds.  He felt better.

The River Café – Brooklyn, NY

Posted on April 16, 2011 by - Restaurant Reviews

River Cafe Bar View

The View from the River Café's Bar

The River Café (1 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY) offers some of DUMBO’s finest dining. Boasting a Michelin Star, it is described thus in the Guide: "meander through gorgeous gardens, soak in mind-boggling views of the Manhattan skyline and dig into delicious contemporary fare." It was a gray and rainy day when I visited the River Café so I didn’t meander much in the gardens – although they did look nice from a distance. During my meal I learned that the establishment employs a dedicated team of full-time gardeners.

The view of Manhattan is exceptional. I sat at the bar and was able to see from the Statue of Liberty all the way up past the Empire State Building. If taking in the skyline gets boring, the waterfront location of the Café offers an ideal setting for boat watching. For those who want a closer view, the Café provides a binocular stand on its deck.


Given the River Café’s reputation, my expectations were high when I came in for lunch. I took a seat at the bar and sipped on an excellent Manhattan while I perused the menu. After some consultation with the helpful and attentive bartender, I settled on the tuna tartare appetizer (Yellowfin Tuna tartare with hand-cut avocado, mild wasabi and cucumber salad, chili oil and sea salt, toast points) and the duck entrée (crisp duck breast with truffle honey and fennel pollen glaze, duck leg and potato croquette, organic carrots, julienne bok choy).

The tuna tartare was very good, perhaps a tad bland – although that may have been done intentionally to showcase the quality and freshness of the tuna. The accompanying wasabi was the real deal, not the western wasabi you run into at many sushi restaurants. The avocado was immaculately hand-sliced into strips of baffling thinness. I have no idea how I could ever slice an avocado so perfectly. The cucumber salad complemented the dish quite well. All in all, the tuna tartare was a very well-rounded and fairly light appetizer.

Crisp Duck Breast with Truffle Honey

Crisp Duck Breast

The crisp duck breast was simply delicious, among my personal top three duck dishes of all time. The truffle honey added just the right touch of sweetness to complement the fennel pollen glaze, and the meat itself was very tender and moist. The carrots and bok choy were perfectly cooked: just slightly tender. The very tasty duck leg croquette added novelty to the presentation. The maître d’ recommended an excellent Shiraz that paired perfectly with the flavor of the duck.

Moving on to dessert, I settled on the goat cheese cheesecake (passion fruit gelée, meringue, passion fruit ice cream). I am opinionated about cheesecake, so I was especially curious to experience the River Café’s rendition. It did not disappoint. The goat cheese imparted a pleasant sweetness to the dish, which was lighter than typical cheesecake. This was good, because I was also presented with an assortment of petit fours – excellent as well, with the white chocolate truffle and the macaroon as the pinnacles of my final course.

Assorted Petit Fours

Assorted Petit Fours


The River Café is very well-staffed, and the service was impeccable. The bartender was knowledgeable and friendly. The maître d’s wine suggestion was an excellent accompaniment to the crisb duck breast. The waitstaff bustled about efficiently and unobtrusively. The food was served promptly; my duck arrived the minute I had finished the tuna tartare.


The waterfront location and the big plate-glass windows that overlook the East River imbue the Café with a distinct ambience. The dining room is well-sized but feels ever larger and more open because of the windows. And the view is stunning. I know of no other restaurant where you can take in such a broad swath of the Manhattan skyline. The interior of the River Café is as immaculate as the view is expansive, with plenty of polished wood, brass and starched white cloth.