Publication Date: May 5, 2017
Publication Location: BRATTLEBORO, VT
Contact: Kathryn Schoenberger   |   [email protected]

The School for International Training has received a $100,000 grant from Windham Regional Commission to install a campus-based solar energy system that will also pioneer new research, strengthen community ties, and enhance curriculum at SIT Graduate Institute.

“The solar panel project is part of World Learning and SIT’s organization-wide climate action plan, which was updated and signed by our board in 2014, to make our campus greener and more energy efficient,” said Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning, SIT’s parent organization.

The project, which will be installed in partnership with Putney, Vermont-based Dynamic Organics, is expected to significantly reduce SIT’s electricity costs. It will also be part of a pilot project researching crops that are appropriate for areas within and around solar panels. “Between the curriculum and integrated teaching and living, the School for International Training has a history of progressive action, and its approach to the environment and sustainability is no different,” said SIT President Sophia Howlett.

The grant is one of five announced today by Windham Regional Commission (WRC) during a press conference at SIT. The highly competitive grants were made possible through the Windham County Renew able Energy Program (WCREP). Funds for that program are available through WRC’s Clean Energy Development Fund as part of a settlement between the state and Entergy Vermont Yankee. To support renewable energy generation projects in Windham County.

“For eight decades, SIT has been a proud member of the Windham County community and a major contributor to the local economy,” said Dr. Howlett. The 200-acre campus at 1 Kipling Road in Brattleboro employs nearly 200 staff members as well as many more seasonal staff, and is home to a community of more than 100 graduate students and other young people from around the world who come to SIT as part of exchange programs.

“By helping SIT move toward renewable energy, this grant will be supporting a large, diverse, and vibrant Windham County community,” Dr. Howlett added.

Each year, the Vermont campus currently consumes 1.457 million kilowatt hours of electricity (KwH), valued at approximately $153,000. The project is expected to produce total capacity of 150 AC watts, conserve more than 390,000 gallons of fossil fuel, and displace 4,622,161 pounds of CO2 emissions. It is expected to save the campus more than $48,751 in energy costs in the first year alone.

The solar panels will be installed on a hillside adjacent to the Lowey International Center. SIT was awarded a certificate of public good by the Vermont Public Service Board last year to install the panels.

SIT will partner with agriculture researcher Tatiana Schreiber of Westminster, Vermont, to plant crops within and around the solar array to research ways to maximize the use and value of solar land. The project will be linked with classes and a public lecture series at SIT Graduate Institute. Students and community members will have the opportunity to observe, contribute to, and evaluate the project during the fall 2017 and spring 2018 semesters.

The concept of complementing solar panels with compatible crops was pioneered by a Japanese engineer in 2004, but has not been extensively researched in the United States. “With this development, SIT will become one of only a handful of projects in the United States testing complementary solar/agriculture use,” said Dr. Howlett. “The project will produce meaningful knowledge about best practices for using solar land as a venue for specialized farming.”

The Windham County Renewable Energy Program was developed by the WRC’s Energy Committee with public input, according to WRC Executive Director Chris Campany.  A total of $400,000 in grant funding was available. WRC received 12 applications with requested funding exceeding $1 million. “All the applications the WRC received showed great innovation and promise for the expansion of the clean energy economy in Windham County,” said WRC planner and program coordinator Marion Major.

Other projects selected to receive funding through WRC include two more solar projects, a combined heat and electric biomass generator, and a feasibility study for an anaerobic digester that could help the region meet new solid waste management rules. “The diversity and quality of the projects are emblematic of the commitment to creative renewable energy generation solutions within the Windham region,” said Campany.

“The CEDF congratulates the grantees on their commitment to investing in local renewable energy generation,” said Andrew Perchlik, CEDF Fund Manager at the Vermont Department of Public Service. “The commission led a successful process in identifying these five projects that will help build the clean energy economy in Windham County.”