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The Valley Reporter
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A community of ideas with ingenuity

03/27/2008

By Barry Simpson

At long last there is the beginning at least of an effective community response to the urgency of reduced liquid fuel availability and the corresponding increase in cost of that commodity. The interest in municipalities in this issue as evidenced by broad general support, including financial support in Warren, of the Carbon Shredders initiative was disparaged last week by Marie Leotta in her opinion article "Support ideas with ingenuity."

The fact that energy conservation is a commonly shared objective among Valley townspeople, including town officials, should not surprise anyone. Warren, for instance, has nine large heated buildings and a fleet of large vehicles that with a heightened awareness of the principles of energy conservation can be operated and maintained in a manner that will save the taxpayers many times the $600 appropriated for this purpose at Town Meeting.

This is perhaps one reason why two members of the Warren Select Board and numerous other town officials attended the Carbon Shredders' inaugural event at the Big Picture last week. One of the most exciting revelations from that event was that in this region there is now broad public support for the concepts of energy conservation and conversion of natural energy into useful electricity.  

When the need for designed solutions in support of these concepts first manifested itself locally in the mid-1970s and 80s the response was profound and had a nationwide and in several instances a worldwide impact. But at that time it was largely the separate efforts of individual tinkerers and dreamers working at a few specific locations that produced an extraordinary profusion of design and product solutions.  An array of energy-related brainstorms became production firms that began operations at the Bobbin Mill in Warren.  

Among the paragons of applied ingenuity at the Mill were Vermont Iron Stove and Vermont Castings introducing high-quality airtight wood-burning stoves, North Wind Power (now part of DESC) producing multimodal energy systems for remote locations, Controlled Energy Corporation (now part of Bosch) importing and converting on-demand hot water heating systems, Lincoln Plastics (now Bast and Rood Architects) producing Clivus Multrum composting toilets, and Dirt Road Company making Comfort Shade operable window insulation systems.

Concurrent with these endeavors the Dimetrodon active solar, wind and wood-heated residential project in Warren spun off the energy-oriented architectural firms of William Maclay and Sanford and Strauss, and energy pioneers Richard Travers, Sucosh Norton and Jito Coleman, among others.

And at the same time the passive solar Anthos Association residential complex in Waitsfield spawned energy-efficient building designers Charlie Hosford, Bill Gallup, John Hausner and Tomas Amsler, and energy theorist Alan Tompkins.

But in the current retake it is apparent that the major initiative in The Valley will come not from people acting as individual entrepreneurs or as "watchdogs," to use Ms. Leotta's term, but voluntarily in numerous small groups, coordinated by organizations like Carbon Shredders, funded for the most part by corporate and foundation sponsorship, and in small part by municipal assistance. Of course there are several new entrants in the energy conservation realm, including House Needs, Freeaire and Verilux, as well as the Yestermorrow School and numerous designers and builders conversant in energy-efficient construction.  

But the real promise of the recently initiated Carbon Shredders' endeavor,
and the seasoned efforts of the Mad River Sustainability Group, is that our whole community will undertake the challenging task of meeting the energy crisis head on, and will become a model for other rural communities to aspire to. Our state has taken some very positive steps in this direction, and it is even possible that our federal establishment, which has been pushing the snooze button in regard to energy availability and cost ever since the Reagan administration, will eventually be forced to wake up and smell the roses, one of which will be sprouting here in the Mad River Valley.

Simpson lives in Warren and is a member of the Warren Select Board.
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