Renewable Energy Projects in Works
White River Valley Aiming For Lower Costs
From installing solar panels to scoping out locations for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, the Randolph area is ripe with innovative projects aimed to save money for local taxpayers and help the state meet its goal of being 90% reliant on renewable energy by 2050.
Those projects, which range in size and scale, as well as in the ways that they benefit the community, are being pursued by groups such as the Randolph Region Re-Energized (R3), municipal and school boards, as well as private homeowners and businesses.
Within the initiative, R3 Chair Pat Moulton explained that two task forces in particular look at reducing local spending on energy, which often includes exploring renewable energy production—or at least lessening reliance on fossil fuels.
One task force is focused on reducing the energy bills of municipal and school buildings, which in turn, should lessen the burden of those buildings on the town and school budget, noted Moulton.
Adam Wiggett, a Randolph-based solar installer, serves on the task force as well, and has recently worked with the Orange Southwest School District to do preliminary solar designs for all four schools.
Wigget noted that his primary focus, for now, is the Braintree elementary school, which he estimates spends about 20% more on electricity than Randolph and Brookfield elementary schools.
By installing solar on the roof, he said, the school would significantly reduce its electricity bill, by generating much of its own power, and net-metering any excess power back to the grid.
Net-metering is a regulated process by which renewable energy producers can sell energy back to the power grid, thereby lowering their power bill.
Wiggett has presented the board and Superintendent Layne Millington with his proposal at recent meetings, and said that currently an engineer is performing structural analysis to determine whether the roof could hold a solar array.
Millington noted that if the district decides to move forward with the project, under state law it will go out to bid as companies compete to do the installation.
Moulton said “clearly, we’re looking at what … the financial benefits that can be obtained are,” but, she added, another important part of seeking out ways to increase Randolph’s reliance on renewables is to “put Randolph on the map,” as a town that is successfully combating climate change.
One of the biggest projects that R3 is working on currently, she noted, is encouraging three entities in Randolph to install Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations.
This Friday, she noted, grant applications for state funds to install those chargers are due, and in Randolph, Gifford Medical Center, town officials, and Vermont Technical College (of which Moulton is president) have each applied for a grant.
Moulton noted that in addition to the three possible chargers, the state is planning to install a publicly accessible EV charging station at the VTC lab that is currently under construction in Randolph Center.
Jon Copans, of Vermont’s Council on Rural Development (which R3 is a part of) emphasized that even though electricity is not necessarily powered solely through renewable sources, the state’s Renewable Energy Standard currently requires that 55% of energy used by Vermont utilities must come from renewable sources.
“If you drive a conventional car … there’s nothing renewable about that,” said Copans, “But as soon as your vehicle is running on electricity some [55%] or more of your power is coming from renewable sources.”
Vermont utilities primarily get their renewable energy from large hydroelectric power plants, as well as some solar and wind installations, said Copans.
On the Home Front
Copans also serves on R3’s home and business energy savings task force, and mentioned that one initiative, through a partnership with Efficiency Vermont (a program operated through the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation), allowed 50 Randolph-area residents to receive free energy audits at their homes from Efficiency Vermont.
Those audits, he mentioned, are fairly flexible, and often result in people making some sort of change to their energy usage, such as insulating their homes or switching from a non-renewable heat source to something more environmentally friendly, or at least more energy efficient as a heating source.
Ultimately, he said, that initiative surpassed their goals with 62 area residents having signed up for home energy visits a week-and-a-half before the task force’s self-imposed deadline of November 15.
Copans noted that the task force also strives to educate local business owners on how renewable energy can reduce expenditures on energy.
Sam Hooper, who purchased Green Mountain Glove in Randolph earlier this year, has recently decided to tackle a number of projects, that upon completion will mean the business has a “net zero” energy impact, meaning the factory will generate at least as much energy as it consumes.
Besides improving the company’s finances by spending less money on electricity and heat, and fighting his impact on climate change, Hooper noted that another important aspect of the improvements is that he’s hired local businesses and contractors to do the work on the building.
“One hundred percent local— that’s what we believe in,” said Hooper, “We’re asking people to buy gloves locally,” said Hooper, “[I] feel it’s my duty to do the same when I need something done.”
So far, Hooper, with an incentive from Efficiency Vermont, has upgraded from a coal boiler to a pellet boiler, which will require significantly less fuel and maintenance, and completed a number of insulation and weatherization improvements to the building.
Additionally as of Wednesday afternoon, Catamount Solar of Randolph was wrapping up the installation of a 12.8 kilowatt solar array on the roof of the building, which Hooper estimates will produce about twice as much electricity as the company needs