Vermont Solar Farm

Tiny Vermont ranks in solar because of a state-wide mindset

South Burlington, Vermont broke ground this month on a new solar array capping the city landfill. The brownfield solar development is expected to save city taxpayers more than $5 million over its 25-year life on power for the municipal government and the local schools.

The new array in South Burlington would be especially noteworthy in a state like Alabama or Wisconsin, both of which have more sunny days a year than Vermont on average. But neither of those states have nearly the emphasis on solar that Vermont does.

Traveling through Vermont and visiting the small state’s many agricultural businesses this week, they all have something in common. From Cabot Creamery to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and dozens of small sugarhouses producing pure Vermont Maple Syrup, they all have a deep and abiding respect for the environment and a loyalty to their community rarely seen in business elsewhere.

They also all have solar arrays (maybe not some of the little sugarhouses).

Treating employees right, staying local, and being good stewards of the land that provides their livelihoods are parts of the businesses’ mission statements.

Since state governments are controlled by the people and businesses that call it home, there’s no wonder Vermont has progressive policies that promote solar installations.

The state, with a population of less than 700,000 people, ranked 22nd on Solar Energy Industry Association report for installed solar with 127 megawatts in 2015.

Cabot Creamery, a coop helping a local collection of dairy farmers market and sell their product at a premium by turning the milk into fine branded butter and Vermont Cheddar bragging to be the best in the world (it has won many international competitions), is an especially unique business. It’s owned by the farmers who depend on it. Many of the coop’s farms are solar powered. Some of the equipment at its manufacturing centers are powered by solar, and the coop is now installing solar panels atop two of its refrigerated trucks as a pilot project. If the truck panels prove to work well, the coop will install solar panels atop more of its refrigerated trucks, drastically reducing the fuel the trucks require.

Ben & Jerry’s installed a massive solar array at its ice cream factory in Waterbury, VT in 2015. The ground-mounted array powers most of its operations.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, also in Waterbury, VT., installed more than 100 kilowatts of solar, which provides about 10 percent of the electricity the business needs at its corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility.

Driving around Vermont, it’s surprising to see so many solar arrays. There are many for such a small state. They stand out, especially on cloudy and rainy days – of which Vermont has many. The state has only 157 average sunny days a year.

Yet, Vermonters are overwhelmingly choosing to power their homes and businesses with the sun’s energy.