Opinion: Young residents key to Vermont’s solar future

When my husband and I were house hunting in 2010, Starksboro was not on ourradar. We were young 20-somethings on the hunt for an affordable propertyin Chittenden County unaware of Addison County’s rural charm. As nativeVermonters, we craved space, peace and quiet and hunted for the progressive,inventive ethic we enjoyed from our college years in Boston. And that’s howwe found Starksboro.
While we were house hunting, Starksboro was busy planning its own future. Thetown decided to power its municipal buildings and Robinson Elementary Schoolwith clean, renewable and affordable energy. The town went solar in October2010 by installing a 100kW project behind Robinson Elementary School with thehelp of AllEarth Renewables.
I was drawn to Starksboro’s commitment to our green energy future and now,nearly five years later, I’m proud my fellow Starksboro residents voted topurchase the array providing healthy, safe and affordable energy for ourfuture.
Community-scale solar has been hot in the headlines this year as we seeincreased presence in our towns. I took exception to an April 6 editorial byMr. Peter Rothschild (“Legislature missing the mark on solar”) about therecent solar siting hearing at the Statehouse. I was in attendance thatevening and spoke in support of solar. And while some of the speakers werefellow young professionals, I was surprised to see Mr. Rothschild frame hispiece as solar being a simple division of the ages: “Many of the peopleadvocating for absolutely no regulation of the siting of solar projects wereunder the age of 30, an age below which most folks may find it hard to amassenough money to buy a home. For most people who own a home, it is theirlargest single investment, so it’s natural to expect them to fight for someregulations to protect the value of their homes.”
I agree. When I was a 26-year-old young professional, I found it difficult to afford a home in Vermont. The high cost of living, expensive oil bills and tight job market encouraged my husband and me to consider leaving our native Green Mountains in search of not-so-greener pastures elsewhere. When the economy tanked and my job security was in question, I again turned to solar’s promising future by joining the ever-growing clean energy workforce, now 15,000 strong statewide, and proudly work for SunCommon, a Vermont solar company based in Waterbury. I, too, am looking to “protect the value” of my home, but I choose to do so by investing in an infrastructurethat supports Vermont’s clean energy independence. I choose solar.
I urge Mr. Rothschild not to discount the voice of fellow Vermont residentsbecause of their age. I dispute his argument that this is simply ademographic debate. But, to his point, if indeed those supporting solar tendto be young renters, then I imagine this is the very generation that theVermont housing market will depend on as these renters search for affordable,clean, renewable energy options in their neighborhood. This generation is,after all, Vermont’s future tax base. I don’t think young Vermonters aretaking a “free-rider position” in the debate. I see them working towardsecuring their own existence in a future they have a hand in designing.
This is where I want to raise my family. I want to live in a place that notonly has accepted responsibility for our impact on the climate, but is alsoactively working toward a solution. My kids will learn in a classroom poweredby solar, with the very power source beautifully planted in the field by theschool. No longer will generations be disconnected from their energy sources.As the former Robinson Elementary School Principal Dan Noel once said,“It’s the right thing to do, because we’re not relying on other people tomake our electricity. That’s a very Vermont sort of independence.” Thelessons of climate change will not be taught in our students’ text books,but every single day when they walk into their solar-powered classroom.
Let’s set an example by supporting solar instead of discounting the veryvoices that depend on it the most.
Emily McManamy

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