20th SolarFest: A weekend to catch some rays
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | July 20,2014
Above, people attending SolarFest had a chance to try out some electric bikes courtesy of Zoombikes of Middlesex. The bikes, which start at $2,400, carry batteries rated to last 40 miles, depending on terrain and how much pedaling is done by the rider. At right, from left, Kim McCoy joins Janet Pelletier and Ahmet Baycut of the Bog Stompers as they play live music Saturday during SolarFest. McCoy and Pelletier are playing instruments that resemble wooden toys.
For Drew Barrett of Barre, SolarFest is an appropriate place to spend Saturday with his girlfriend.
“I’m into solar,” he says, listening to one of the live music acts.
Barrett, who commutes from Barre to Burlington for his job at a Nissan dealer (Nissan sells the only all-electric vehicle), appreciates the focus on all things sustainable.
“I definitely like these ideas,” he says. “Anything that’s different, smart.”
Now in its 20th year, this is not your parents’ SolarFest.
Solar remains a focus but not the sole focus of the renowned sustainability event, which concludes today at the Forget-Me-Not Farm in Tinmouth and is expected to draw a three-day total of 5,000 or more attendees from across New England and beyond.
Patty Kenyon, SolarFest managing director, said the festival has evolved over the years.
“It used to be pretty much energy-focused and then when we moved here … we added children’s workshops, we added a sustainable agriculture tract, we added a green building tract, we added what we call thriving communities,” Kenyon says. “And then this year we have green transportation and we also have climate change.”
The 80 or so vendors are sprinkled around the gently sloping pasture and inside the large indoor exhibit space.
Everything about the festival says sustainability — from the solar-powered stage in front of the barn to the solar showers.
There are sustainability workshops on worm composting, batteries and solar roofing. Ted Dillard’s workshop on how to build an electric motorcycle drew about 40 curious spectators Saturday.
The Mini-Maker Fair, expanded to two days this year, showcases ways to take old stuff and turn it into something new and useful.
Alec Guettel, the Saturday keynote speaker, is an environmentalist, social entrepreneur, and co-founder of Sungevity Inc., a major residential solar company. Guettel previously served in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to former EPA chief Carol Browner.
Inside the exhibit area, a variety of renewable and sustainable energy products and devices are on display. TEGpro of Randolph sells products that converts waste heat to electricity.
At another booth, Cutting Edge Energy of West Burke displays a wood pellet boiler that spokesman Dan Davis says can save a user 50 percent off their heating oil bill.
Jonathan and Kim Hescock started Vermont Victory Greenhouses several years ago. The Cornwall couple custom-builds greenhouses that can be used year round and provide an additional heat source.
“This is something that can enhance your property,” Kim Hescock says. “It can be an alternative heat source to your house, or your shop or your garage, and it can offer a way to grow greens year round, harvest cucumbers and tomatoes in May.”
Same Sun Choice, a downtown Rutland store, sells an assortment of products from Campbell Soup to hand-woven scarves and dish towels with one thing in common.
“So the only things I sell in the store are manufactured with solar energy,” says Theresa Brown, store manager. “That’s the only common denominator.”
The festival draws a fair numbers of campers who pitched tents of every size and color.
Entertainment is no small part of the festival with a sprinkling of early morning festival-goers dancing to the sound of Eastbound Jesus.
On a hazy and overcast day, shorts, straw hats, tent dresses, and tie-dyed T-shirts are the preferred attire.
George McNaughton, of Springfield, says the festival helps raise awareness about the importance of sustainability. “It’s been picking up over the last couple of years,” says McNaughton, a selectman.
For Beth Thompson, a member of the Rutland Area Climate Coalition, the festival is the perfect venue to voice her opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline.
“We’re trying very hard to get Gov. Shumlin and the Public Service Board to realize that a fracked-gas pipeline in the state to benefit a Canadian company and a New York state company, is not in the best interest of the citizenry of Vermont,” says Thompson, referring to the Vermont Gas Systems project that would eventually extend the pipeline to Rutland.
For organizers of the event, planning for the next festival begins in earnest in January. “The month before, leading up (to the July event), is pretty hectic,” says Kenyon, the managing director.
Getting the Forget-Me-Not Farm ready is another chore. It requires haying fields, moving livestock, mowing and sprucing up, she said.
“That takes a good couple of solid weeks of five or six people every day,” Kenyon says.
For its 20th year, the festival boosted its budget to $130,000, in part to cover additional entertainment. Kenyon says the festival is relying more and more on entrance fees, which this year account for 80 percent of the budget.
“We have some sponsorships, but in this business climate it’s tough to get the amount of sponsorships we really need so this year our (admission) prices went up,” she says.
The festival (www.solarfest.org) continues today from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.