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Solar Energy in Vermont: Success stories and areas for improvement

This blog entry is written by Kitt Urdang, a junior at Williams College and a summer 2022 intern with the Charlotte Energy Committee.

Hinesburg Town Garage with solar panels on the roof. Photo Courtesy of Building Energy.

Among the fifty states, Vermont has the highest share of in-state electricity net generation from renewable resources, at around 100 percent. About half of this energy comes from hydroelectric power generated at various dams, 17 percent from biomass, 15 percent from wind farms, and 14 percent from solar energy. In other words, no fossil fuels, such as coal, are used to create electricity in Vermont.

However, the state has a long way to go with its energy consumption beyond electricity — three-fifths of all energy consumed in the state comes from petroleum, at a rate that is higher per capita than three-quarters of the states. Petroleum is mainly used to heat homes and to fuel automobiles.

Luckily, Vermonters across the state are working hard to transition away from fossil fuels in transportation and thermal heating by promoting solar energy at their homes, companies, schools, and municipalities. In Waitsfield, local brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids recently opened the state’s largest solar canopy array. The canopy covers 40 parking spaces with an array that holds 495 individual solar modules and is connected to 10 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The canopy will provide 60% of Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ annual electricity needs, or enough to produce 2.4 mil cans of beer.

In Brattleboro, Integrated Solar Operations (ISA) is spearheading a 500 kW community solar project called ISA Exit 1 Solar. Customers purchase panels on the ground mount array by paying upfront or financing it with VSECU, and ISA will handle permitting, installing, maintenance, and more. Then, they’ll receive energy credits on their home’s Green Mountain Power utility bill or transfer the credits elsewhere in the area using a process called net metering. This community solar project is giving Vermonters who rent their homes or live somewhere unsuitable for solar panels the chance to reap the benefits of solar energy.

Encore Renewable Energy and Vermont Electric Cooperative recently collaborated on two solar projects in Jericho. The projects were built on top of the old municipal gravel pit and landfill, taking advantage of land designated as brownfields for solar energy and freeing up other land for agriculture and housing. One of the largest concerns experts hold regarding ground mount solar is its inefficient use of land, but using brownfields is a great solution because it builds on land that would otherwise be unusable. The energy from the Jericho projects will provide renewable-based electricity to members of the Vermont Electric Cooperative and propels the Cooperative closer to its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

In Weathersfield, Norwich Solar installed a 500 kW array on the town garage, a project that might warrant attention by Charlotters. The energy generated will be used to power municipal buildings, with three local businesses and the Town of Weathersfield using part of the array to meet their own energy needs through net metering. The solar installation will lower the town’s utility bills and facilitate community use of renewable energy.

Installing solar isn’t just good energy policy — it also creates jobs and businesses throughout Vermont. According to a recent analysis by Yale Climate Connections, Vermont has 57 TWh of solar potential each year but has under 2,000 solar-related jobs. Meanwhile, nearby Massachusetts has 57 TWh of solar potential each year but over 16,800 solar-related jobs. Therefore, Vermont has 34 jobs per TWh of the state’s solar potential, while Massachusetts has 151.

If Vermont grew its solar industry to match Massachusetts’ ratio of solar potential to jobs, the state could add 6,600 jobs, more than tripling its current count. It’s for this reason, and the environmental benefits of abandoning fossil fuels, that expanding solar energy use and industry across the state is beneficial for all Vermonters.

Vermont is making great strides toward a clean energy future, and further investment in solar energy will create jobs while encouraging public-private partnerships, responsible land use, and innovative business practices.

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