On October 6th, Seventh Generation and the University of Vermont welcomed the 45th US Vice President, Al Gore at Ira Allen Chapel on the university’s campus. The highly anticipated speaking engagement entitled “The Climate Crisis and the Case for Hope,” which is part of an Energy Action Seminar Series facilitated by UVM Energy Alternatives, was truly an emotional roller coaster and had Gore left the stage at the halfway mark, all in attendance would have gone home rather depressed. “We are going to win this struggle” he stated, “the question is how quickly we will win,” Gore remarked before elaborating on the deep sinkhole humanity has fallen into.
The lecture followed a path most familiar with the former vice president’s advocacy would expect. The rising atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels that we are witnessing come from a variety of sources, but as Gore pointed out “the main problem is burning of fossil fuels, when we address this, the rest will fall into place.” The first part of the lecture really focused on the crisis. The audience watched in horror footage of major weather events, many have seen before, but taken in all at once really underline the major recent changes that we have seen in our global weather patterns. Gore noted that of the “14 of the hottest years on record have been in the last 15 years,” and that the average temperature at night during this time has increased, meaning that people and the planet, really can’t get a break from the heat.
Gore went on to talk about the cost of carbon, or as he tried to drive home, the lack of cost it represents to our economy. “We need to put a cost on carbon,” he noted “put a cost on denial” he then continued in reference to those who deny climate change. This statement was met by large applause by those who filled Ira Allen Chapel, hitting home for a crowd that will likely be talking a lot about carbon pricing in the upcoming legislative session. Political instability, floods and mudslides, wildfires, drought, storm damage, dying coral, infrastructure loss, species extinction, melting glaciers, famine water security, ecosystem loss, our way of life, infectious disease, and sea level rise all represent the cost of carbon we are already paying Gore noted on a slide with an animated cash register racking up the cost, concluding “there is a financial risk to using fossil fuels”
It’s worth noting, that this notion does not make Gore an outlier anymore. Just last week the Governor of the bank of England, Mark Carney echoed the same message when he spoke on the increase of major weather events and the related financial cost at meeting of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London. Additionally, going back to last year, the department of defense listed climate change as an agitating factor in areas already experiencing political instability.
As was said earlier, if Gore had sent everyone home after the “The Climate Crisis” part of his lecture, without the “Case for Hope” portion, everyone there would have a pretty doomy and gloomy demeanor for weeks to come. Instead, the mood took a 360 change with Gore trumpeting the triumphs of the past year that have put humanity on a course towards beating climate change. Among these he gave Burlington credit for achieving 100% renewable energy. He went on the new power generated in 2014 three quarters of it was renewable energy, and reflecting on the fact that those who still deny climate change can agree, renewables just make economic sense.
To close, Gore instructed the audience, “always remember, that political will is a renewable resource.” As Vermont and the rest of the nation watch national and local campaigns for political office start up in which politicians’ attention, or potential lack of attention, can greatly shape our climates future, let’s hope that holds true. Leaving Ira Allen Chapel, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of optimism, and optimism is definitely a renewable resource.
The full seminar “The Climate Crisis and the Case for Hope” can be heard courtesy of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics
David Marchant and Jane Sorensen of River Berry Farm—an organic vegetable and fruit producer in Fairfax—were early adopters of biomass heating when they installed a corn and pellet furnace in one of their greenhouses in 2008. The furnace required manual lighting and was snuffed out often when strong winds blew, and did not produce reasonable heat. “I kept thinking, there has got to be a better option,” recalls David, “It was a real labor burden, and you couldn’t count on it.”
Based on their early experiences and bolstered by a commitment to long-term sustainability and reduced fossil fuel dependence, River Berry Farm opted to host a biomass heating demonstration project. This time, they opted for a higher-rated boiler rather than a furnace. Boilers produce hot water, rather than hot air, which allows more options for distributing the heat. The new system also had an automated propane ignition system.
The biomass heating demonstration was part of a UVM Extension project aimed at trialing several furnaces in agricultural heating applications with funding support provided by the High Meadows Fund. According to Chris Callahan, Ag Engineer with UVM Extension Agricultural Engineering Program who assisted with some of the design and performance assessment, “The main lessons learned from these early installations were to buy high quality fuel, seek improved automatic ignition controls, invest in a good chimney and install it well, and know the actual heat output rating of the unit.”
Modern biomass heating appliances generally include a fuel storage bin, an auger for feeding fuel to the appliance, the appliance itself (boiler or furnace) with an ignition system, a combustion chamber, a heat exchanger, and a heat distribution system. They also incorporate some means of controlling combustion, fuel feed rate, and air flow and often include emissions control measures and automated ash removal.
The selected boiler was a Central Boiler Maxim 250 with a 250,000 BTU/hr input rating, efficiency of 87.8%, and EPA Phase II Hydronic Heater qualification. “The boiler makes hot water which we can use in multiple greenhouses by plumbing it to them in insulated PEX piping. Once in the greenhouse, we convert to hot air with a hot water fan coil, put it in the ground for root-zone heating or on the benches in our mat-heating system for starts,” says Marchant. “I like it. I keep trying to find something wrong with it, but I can’t. The payback period is a bit longer due to higher initial costs, but you have to expect that.”
The basic system cost was approximately $13,000 for the boiler, bin, pad, and plumbing to a hot water fan coil. The other heat distribution systems included in-ground PEX, heat exchange, and plumbing for a bench heat system and added approximately another $5,000. The system is more automated and reliable than the earlier furnace was, but the higher initial costs and the fact that the system is only used 3 months out of the year do prolong the payback period to about 12 years when compared with a propane furnace. If the system was used for 6 (space heating) or even 12 months (wash water, pasteurization) of the year the payback would be halved or quartered, respectively.
“In addition to the financial payback, the carbon emissions avoidance is also of interest to many people,” says Callahan, “In River Berry Farm’s case, the Maxim is helping them avoid 5,910 pounds of net CO2 emissions per year which is about equivalent to 5,000 miles car travel or the CO2 sequestered by half an acre of pine forest.”
Learn more about UVM Extension’s Agricultural Engineering Program at.
This story was originally released in a series of energy case studies showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production—all of which are components for helping Vermont reach the renewable energy and environmental impact goals of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. Learn more at www.vtfarmtoplate.com.
14 Sep 2015
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, aims to foster the sustainable bioenergy through a local production for local use model, proven to work for Vermont. Since 2003 the program has allowed Vermont farms to ease their resilience on inconsistently priced, foreign fossil fuels and other agricultural inputs. This is accomplished by focusing on biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass energy for heating, and algae production for biofuels and waste management.
Vermont Bioenergy Initiative grantees have shown just how much the addition of biomass feedstock can contribute to sustainable agriculture. As one of these grantees, John Williamson of Stateline Farm would put it, “100 years ago everyone produced their own fuel; we are just doing that now in a different way.” This is really a novel way to look of what he is doing on his North Bennington farm. John was featured in a recent story in Daily Yonder which outlined his work and how he has begun helping his Vermont neighbors find their path to this form of sustainable, renewable energy.
For more about John Williamson’s on-farm biodiesel production, watch this video of John in self-designed Biobarn. He and Chris Callahan of University of Vermont Extension show us how they can grow oil crops, make biodiesel, feed animals, and save money!
Also, explore the initiative’s extensive and accessible set of bioenergy resources for replication in rural communities across the United States and beyond.
07 Sep 2015
Beginning Monday the 14th of September, and reoccurring each week thereafter, an Energy Action Seminar Series aims to explore energy transitions in Vermont, the United States and the rest of the World. Sponsored by the University of Vermont’s Clean Energy Fund, Community Development & Applied Economic program, and the Environmental Program this series will be held from 4:00-05:20 pm in Lafayette Hall Room 108* at the University of Vermont. This series featuring world-class speakers on policy options, political controversy, costs and benefits, activism, and jobs is free and open to the public.
While there is already an extensive line-up of speakers, the most high profile speaker to stand out on the list is former Vice President Al Gore. Gore will draw on his years of climate advocacy for his discourse entitled “The Climate Crisis and The Case for Hope.” When delivering this discourse, Gore aims to address three big questions on the climate crisis: Do we need to change? Can we? And will we? The resounding answer to first two questions of course is a loud YES, but third one most likely cannot be answered in certain terms, and hopefully this where Gore can leave us all with “a case for hope.” NOTE: There is a slight deviation of schedule; this seminar will be on Tuesday, October 6th at 10:15 AM in Ira Allen Chapel.
In addition to Al Gore, numerous other leaders from near and afar will attend and speak during the duration of this series. One such visitor on September 21st, Professor Miranda Schreurs of Free University of Berlin and Director of their Environmental Policy Cente,r stands to bring a plethora of insight from her experience in Germany’s renewable energy revolution. In her time with the Environmental Policy Research Center, Professor Schreurs was on the frontlines of the interdisciplinary collaboration of university researchers necessary for Germany to meet it’s ambitious goal of running almost their entire economy on renewable energy by the year 2050. Germany’s goal is very similar to Vermont’s 2050 goal, and the potential for collaboration and to learn from one another through this event are boundless.
Another great guest speaker will come from Washington, all the way across the US,. Yoram Bauman, more commonly known “Stand-Up Economist,” uses a unique combination of witty comedic talent along with his PhD in Environmental Economics to help an audience explore climate change in an economic context. Yoram’s seminar exploring carbon taxing on October 10th will fall just a couple of days after he serves as the keynote speaker and sits on a carbon pricing panel at the 15th Annual Renewable Energy Conference & Expo in Burlignton, VT. His fresh and recent insight into Vermont’s existing carbon pricing discussion mixed with his existing expertise, and sense of humor will make this event worth not missing.
Additionally, many Vermont energy leaders will be speaking at theses weekly seminars including Representative Tony Klein Chair of House Energy and Natural Resources, Asa Hopkins Director of Planning for the Department of Public Service, Gabrielle Stebbins Director of Renewable Energy Vermont, and Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power. Each of these speakers, as well as the entities they represent, have proven themselves leaders in the Vermont energy landscape through their involvement in recent energy legislation, advocacy, and innovation.
|9/14||Energy Transitions||Jennie Stephens, Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy, University of Vermont|
|9/21||Going Green: The German Energy Transition||Miranda Schreurs, Professor, Free University of Berlin Director, Environmental Policy Center|
|9/28||The Vermont Energy Transition||Tony Klein, Chair: House Energy and Natural Resources, Asa Hopkins, Director of Planning, Department of Public Service. Gabrielle Stebbins, Director, Renewable Energy Vermont|
|10/5||Student Alumni: Making a Difference in the World||Panel: Recent UVM grads in energy-related fields|
|10/6*||The Climate Crisis and The Case for Hope||Al Gore, former Vice-President, United States|
|10/12||Carbon Taxes: Why We Need Them||Yoram Bauman, The world’s only “stand-up” Economist|
|10/19||Challenging the Car: Creating places where biking is safe & easy||Steve Clark, League of American Bicyclists, Community Organizer|
|10/26||Vermont’s Energy Company of the Future: A Customer Driven Energy Transformation||Mary Powell, President & CEO, Green Mountain Power|
|11/2||“The War on Coal:” Big Fossils’ Response to Divestment||Jen Schneider, Political Science Dept. Boise State University|
|11/9||The Transportation Transition: Complete Streets||Roger Millar, Director, SmartGrowth America|
|11/16||Energy Transitions in the Developing world: South Africa Settlements||Steve McCauley, Worcester Polytechnic Institute|
|11/30||Design Matters: Building Green||Rolf Keilman, Partner, Truex-Cullins, Vermont|
* Al Gore presentation is in the Ira Allen Chapel, special time, 10:15 a.m. Oct. 6
For more information contact
Fred Hall [email protected]
Roison Low [email protected]
Richard Watts [email protected]
27 Jul 2015
The Summit on Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change brought together over 400 innovative business, non‐profit, and community leaders, elected officials, public policy advocates, students, and interested residents to begin to frame policy and investment strategies to advance the development of the Vermont Climate Economy. Summit participants developed a list of key practical actions to serve as a launching point for the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council (VCCEC), a group charged with a one year mission to develop a structured plan with practical actions to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate green economic development in Vermont. The Council will build a set of public/private strategies designed to promote economic opportunity, innovative business development, investment, and job creation in Vermont.
Over the course of 2015, VCCEC will evaluate findings, key ideas and suggested action steps derived from the Summit, lead regional public forums, evaluate and summarize research findings, interview key stakeholder groups, and consider model economic development strategies from other state and countries. During 2015, the group will develop a strategic platform of recommendations for action, and report to the Vermont legislature, the Governor of Vermont and the public in January 2016. The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) will provide support to their work and then help promote the platform of action that comes from its deliberants. Goals of the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council are to:
- Identify opportunities created by climate change to strengthen Vermont’s economy through strategies advancing key business clusters and economic sectors.
- Build an increased sense of unity in Vermont around policies to confront and mitigate the impact of climate change and to advance economic opportunities and solutions that respond to climate change.
- Build a public information campaign to celebrate innovation and Vermont’s green business leadership; internally and externally marketing to build the Vermont brand as an economic/environmental problem solver.
- Expand Vermont’s economic brand around climate change solutions to retain and attract youth and creative entrepreneurs to locate throughout the state.
Vermont businesses and nonprofits are addressing climate change – both its challenges and opportunities. Their creative solutions are a growing part of our state’s economy. What are your experiences? Do you have ideas about how Vermont can grow jobs and nurture innovative business development in sectors ranging from clean energy, to recycling, transportation systems, and thermal efficiency?
Join the Vermont Council on Rural Development and local business leaders at a forum on “What’s Next for Vermont’s Climate Change Economy?” Forums will take place at 7:00pm at the Paramount in Rutland (Aug 26), the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro (Oct 6), and City Hall in Burlington (Oct 29). Come to the forum(s) most convenient for you.
These forums are the next step for public input to the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, a group working to develop a practical plan to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate economic development in Vermont. To learn more about the forums and the Council visit VCRD’s website at vtrural.org, download the event flyer (pdf).
For more information about the results of the summit, Click HERE to read the report and follow the hashtag #VTClimateEconomy and Vermont Council on Rural Development on Twitter at @VTRuralDev for more updates!
Vermont’s solar industry is lauding Governor Peter Shumlin’s proclamation of the third Saturday in June as “Celebrate Solar Day” in Vermont.
The solar proclamation, announced at the Whitcomb Farm in Essex, coincides with this June 20th, when solar projects in communities throughout Vermont will be open for public tours. June 20 is the weekend of the Summer Solstice.
Like open sugarhouse weekend in the spring and open art studio weekend in the fall, the inaugural summertime tours will give Vermonters the opportunity to get an up-close view of solar systems to learn about the technology, solar economics, and the benefits of solar to our community. Solar customers, host farmers, and owners will be on-hand to speak with the public.
More than 50 systems across all regions of the state will be participating in Celebrate Solar Tours and a map of open tours can be found here. Many participating sites will host refreshments, music, or other entertainment. Other planned solar events include community walking tours of residential solar installations, miniature golf, a self-guided bike tour, and on-site yoga.
The Governor’s proclamation notes that “solar energy represented 99% of new electrical capacity in the state in 2014 and more than 5,000 Vermont customers have installed solar” through Vermont’s net metering program.
Further, it cites that the Vermont clean energy industries employ over 15,000 Vermonters, with solar providing “a broad spectrum of employment opportunities, helping retain and attract Vermonters working in manufacturing, installation, and sales, among other careers.”
The Whitcomb family is host to a 2.2 Megawatt solar farm that provides energy for Vermont’s SPEED program.
Among the solar sites open to tour June 20: iconic and sweet Vermont attractions like Cold Hollow Cider and Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, high-tech attractions like Draker and Small Dog Electronics, agricultural farms like Champlain Orchards, shared community solar arrays, and some of Vermont’s highest producing solar farms.
At the announcement of the solar tours, Paul Brown, owner of Cold Hollow Cider in Waterbury Center, which has a 150kW system powering its operations, said of the event, “Folks know us and visit us for our cider and donuts. But we are thrilled to open up the field behind our cidery to share the benefits of solar technology to our business and our community. We’ll of course also be serving up some sweet treats for those who come by.”
The first annual Celebrate Solar Tours on June 20 will feature public tours of more than 50 solar systems of varying size throughout the state. The public will have the opportunity to get an up-close understanding of the technology, economics and benefits to the community. Open systems will be designated with roadway signage and many will feature music, refreshments or other entertainment.
Contact: Ansley Bloomer
[email protected] or 802-595-0723
08 Jun 2015
In 2008, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative began to explore the potential for grasses energy grown in Vermont to meet a portion of the state’s heating demand and reduce the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels. The Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast report was initiated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and carried out by its program the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, to aid in strategic planning for future grass energy program directives.
Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast summarizes current research on the agronomy and usage potential of grass as a biofuel, and points to next steps for the region to fully commercialize this opportunity. The keys to commercializing grass for energy are improving fuel supply with high-yielding crops, establishing best practices for production and use, developing appropriate, high-efficiency combustion technology, and building markets for grass fuel.
Perennial grasses, while serving as a biomass feedstock for heating fuel, also have numerous other benefits to farmers. The grass energy benefits reviewed in the report include retaining energy dollars in the local community, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from heating systems, improving energy security, providing a use for marginal farmland, and reducing pollution in soil and run-off from farms.
Regional and closed loop processing were two models recommended by the report, both involving farmers growing and harvesting grass, but differing in where the grass is processed into fuel and where it is used. The regional processing model calls for aggregating grass from a 50-mile radius at a central processing facility, where the grass is made into and used as fuel, or sold to local users. The closed loop model suggests farmers growing and processing grass on-site for on-farm or community use. Other models, like mobile on-farm processing and processing fuel for the consumer pellet market have significant hurdles to overcome if they are to be successful in Vermont.
In the below video a Vermont agronomist explains switchgrass production followed by entrepreneurs turning bales of grass into briquette fuel. This grass biofuel feedstock can be grown alongside food production on marginal agricultural lands and abandoned pastures, and in conserved open spaces. The harvested grass can be baled and used as-is in straw bale combustion systems, or it can be compressed into several useable forms for pellet fuel combustion systems.
For more information on grass biofuel feedstocks and to read the full Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast report visit the grass energy section of the Vermont Bioenergy website.
In order to meet the goals set by Vermont’s comprehensive energy plan for Vermont to produce 90 percent of the state’s energy needs from renewables by 2050 and reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from a 1990 baseline, Vermont farmers will have an important role to play. As Vermont experiences growth in food-related businesses and jobs, decisions about energy become more important prompting statewide energy and agriculture collaborations. In the following episodes of Across the Fence, UVM Extension agricultural engineer and Vermont Bioenergy Initiative biofuels consultant, Chris Callahan, shares two stories about Vermont farmers who are rethinking their on-farm energy. In both examples UVM extension is able to work with the farmers to help make cleaner, renewable on-farm energy sources a practical solution that saves money and results in greenhouse gas reductions.
Learn more in a series of on-farm energy case studies produced by Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative.
Coming this fall the University of Vermont will be offering a bioenergy course taught by Anju Dahiya, cofounder of General Systems Research, LLC, lead biofuels instructor at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and Vermont Bioenergy algae for biofuel grant recipient. This course is open to both degree and non-degree students from any background or department, as well as farmers, entrepreneurs, and teachers interested in developing curriculum, or projects at school or college levels. This course is also approved for graduate credit.
Potential participants are offered the option of variable credits, ranging from 0 to 6 credit hours. This allows prospective students to only attend lectures and have access to online course materials for 2 credits; further their experience with the addition of hands-on labs and field trips for 3 credits; or participate in all aspects of the class while additionally applying lessons to a service learning project with a community partner, earning 4 credits. Participants have the ability to add up to 2 more credits, totaling no more than 6, for additional work with the community partner pending special permission from the course instructor.
Lectures will be held twice a week between September 18th and December 9th of 2015. Friday lectures will be on campus from 4:05 pm to 7:05 pm, followed by Saturday morning field trips between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm for those students who elected for 3 credits or more. The course required textbook, Bioenergy: Biomass to Biofuels, was edited by Anju Dahiya less than a year ago and represents a compilation of work from an extensive list of well-respected university extension programs, such as The University of Vermont Research Extension, as well as numerous national organizations including the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories.
We all know food gives us energy. But we might sometimes lose sight of the amount of energy involved in producing, processing and delivering that food to our plates. Everything requires energy: from tractors plowing and planting to producing fertilizer or compost; from milking cows and keeping that milk cold to storing and transporting vegetables. This energy costs farms real money and it is sometimes a major category of expense. Energy costs are typically one of the highest for farms, rivaling feed costs on dairy farms and labor costs on vegetable farms.
As Vermont experiences growth in food-related businesses and jobs, decisions about energy become more and more important. This has been part of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan and the associated network of people working on implementing that plan. The plan includes goals related to energy, including; reducing farm production expenses, reducing adverse environmental impacts from farm and food system activities, reducing energy use, and increasing renewable energy use in the food system.
One example of how this is actually working is a group called the Farm to Plate Energy Cross Cutting Team: a group of energy specialists from Efficiency Vermont, the Agency of Agriculture, UVM’s Rubenstein School and UVM Extension, The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, USDA NRCS and private companies. The team meets regularly to learn from each other and take on specific projects such as the recent set of seven “Energy Success Stories” which were released at the 2014 Farm Show, showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production.
Chaired by Efficiency Vermont planning manager, JJ Vandette, the energy team will continue to address the Farm to Plate Efficiency and Renewable Energy Goal to decrease overall food system energy consumption and increase food system renewable energy production and the Farm to Plate Environmental Impacts Goal to decrease adverse environmental impacts from farming and food system activities—while helping to decrease production expenses—also a goal of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan.
The team is always interested in having new members. If you have an interest in energy, especially energy on farms and in the food system, we’d love to hear from you. JJ Vandette can be reached at [email protected] or 802.540.7915.
Data sources and analysis at www.vtfarmtoplate.com/getting-to-2020.