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Weis: Sunny Thoughts

Even on cloudy winter days , I’m nonetheless optimistic about the long-term potential of solar energy. In fact, solar’s been on my mind lately for a number of reasons.
First, back in October, Vermont’s “Solar Bus” visited my school, Johnson State, as part of our Campus Sustainability Day festivities. The bus derives all of its electricity from solar cells located on its roof. These panels can also power a sound system, which we used that day to remind passersby to keep renewable energy in mind.

A few weeks after that, we hosted our college’s Greening Summit. This annual competition provides funding for area students to green up their high schools. Solar figured into some of the more innovative proposals this year, from a 3000-watt solar generator for a greenhouse to solar-powered trash compactors that reduce litter and costs while diverting organics and recyclables from the waste stream.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Johnson State has recently become host to a one-acre 150-kilowatt-hour solar array, a project which perfectly illustrates the boom in solar that our state has recently experienced. The amount of power to be produced by small renewable energy projects in Vermont that have been built or permitted, the vast majority being solar, was up 58 percent in 2014.

And let’s not forget the recent news about Vermont’s solar initiative, which will provide energy for 19 state buildings. This far-sighted project will produce more than 7 million kilowatt hours of energy and provide more than $2.5 million in taxpayer savings over 20 years.

To be sure, solar is not yet a panacea for all our energy needs. It’s fairly costly to install solar cells, at least initially, and there are still some concerns relating to their manufacture. There’s also the problem of storing solar energy. However, as both panel and battery technology continue to improve, I feel in my heart and soul – or at least in my solar plexus – that solar has a real future, even in a less-than-sunshiny state such as ours.

Of course, for most of my life I’ve been a sunny optimist, a glass-half-full kind of guy. Perhaps it’s an inherited trait. My grandfather used to call my dad “Sonny Boy,” and although it was Sonny with an “o,” the nickname no doubt came from the song of the same name that went, “ When there are gray skies, I don't mind the gray skies.”

Anyway, right now I’m reminded of another song. It’s called “Here Comes the Sun.” And, like the Beatles, I say “it’s all right.”

Russ Weis advises first-year students at Northern Vermont University in Johnson, where he also teaches writing and works closely with two student environmental groups.
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