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Top 10 of 2021: Renewable energy projects finally come to the fore

MANY PEOPLE HELPED advance a plan to build an anaerobic digester facility at the Goodrich Farm in Salisbury that will extract renewable natural gas from manure and food scraps. Pictured at a groundbreaking ceremony at the farm are, from left, Vermont Gas CEO Don Rendall, Vanguard Renewables CEO John Hanselman, Goodrich Farm managers Danielle Goodrich and Chase Goodrich, and Middlebury College Executive Vice President David Provost.

Work on renewable energy projects made quiet but significant progress in our communities this past year.

In July Goodrich Farm in Salisbury launched the largest farm-powered anaerobic digester in the Northeast, converting cow manure, and food and beverage waste, into renewable natural gas.

Middlebury College, which has set for itself a goal of deriving 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2028, plans to buy most of the natural gas produced at the farm. That goal is part of the college’s Energy2028 strategy, which includes other sustainability goals like cutting energy consumption by 25%, divesting its endowment of fossil fuel investments and integrating Energy2028 within its educational mission.

In late summer construction began on a 500kW community solar project in Bristol, located on the site of the town’s former landfill. The $1.8 million project, undertaken by the Addison County-based Acorn Energy Co-op and a Waitsfield-based partner, called for nearly 1,700 solar panels at 440 watts apiece. Project leaders, investors and community members plan to celebrate the completion of the solar array on Jan. 8.

This was the second major solar project in Bristol in recent years. Bristol South GLC Solar, a 150kW array built on private land off Route 116, was completed in 2020.

Another Bristol solar project earned approval from the Vermont Public Utilities Commission in 2021. Green Peak Solar is building a 2.2-megawatt array just off Cain Hill Road on a site that had once been considered for a gravel pit.

In October Middlebury College broke ground on a 5-megawatt solar farm that will occupy 30 acres of college-owned land off South Street Extension once it’s completed later this year. With 29,000 panels, the array is expected to provide Middlebury College with about 30% of its total electricity needs, bringing it even closer to its Energy2028 goal.

Not all of the important renewable energy work is focused on generating energy, however. Even more important in some respects are efforts to save energy. For instance, a special section in the Independent last April showed the growing adoption of electric vehicles and increasing number of EV charging stations in Addison County.

Elsewhere, a group of 58 volunteers spent six days at Holley Hall in Bristol this past November making 195 insulating window inserts for Bristol, Lincoln and New Haven residents with cold, drafty homes and high heating bills. The inserts, built from supplies and instructions provided by a nonprofit organization called Window Dressers, are capable of turning a single-pane drafty window into the equivalent of a triple-paned tight window.

An increase in renewable energy projects makes more “green jobs” possible, and such jobs will soon have a home in Bristol. In 2021, Stoney Hill Properties broke ground on a 9.6-acre business park behind the Bristol Fire House. The park’s “anchor tenant” will be AllEarth Renewables, which manufactures solar panel guidance equipment and is owned by Stoney Hill partner David Blittersdorf. The company, which is moving its operations from Williston, plans eventually to employ 40-50 people.

Zooming out to the county level, the Climate Economy Action Center, hot on the heels of the 2020 release of its county climate inventory, spent much of 2021 working on a county climate action plan, which it plans to release later this year. CEAC’s rallying cry: Electrify everything!

In November, the Vermont Department of Public Service released its “Draft Energy Plan for Vermont’s Energy Future,” which includes the goals of meeting:

  • 100% of electricity needs from carbon-free resources by 2032, with at least 75% from renewable energy.
  • 10% of transportation sector energy needs with renewable energy by 2025, and 45% by 2040.
  • 30% of heating needs with renewable energy by 2025, and 70% by 2042.

In non-renewable energy news, oil prices increased by 57% this year. Natural gas increased by 41%. And drivers of gas-powered cars paid 61% more at the pump in December than they had in January.

According to the World Bank, the increases, which were especially acute in the third quarter of this year, were the result of increased demand, weather-related supply disruptions and decreased OPEC production.

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The Addison Independent will be closed on Monday, July 4th. The newspaper will be published on Thursday, as usual.