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Kim Friedman, shown here moderating the school portion of Newfane’s Town Meeting in 2016, coordinates volunteers for West River Valley 100% Renewable, a group looking to convert the region’s energy sources by 2025.

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Group focuses on three initiatives to help the region become fossil-fuel free by 2025

West River Valley 100% Renewable wants to upgrade region to electric-powered school buses, help install myriad residential solar arrays, and work with businesses to invest in energy conservation

—West River Valley 100% Renewable is continuing its mission to meet 100 percent of the transportation, heating and cooling, and electrical needs of the seven towns along the West River through renewable sources by 2025 with three new initiatives.The nearly two-year-old, all-volunteer group of residents from the West River Valley serves Jamaica, Townshend, Brookline, Newfane, Wardsboro, Windham, and Grafton.West River Valley 100% Renewable is focusing on building residential solar arrays, pushing the Windham Central Supervisory Union to replace diesel-fueled buses, and reaching out to area businesses interested in becoming free of fossil-fuel dependency.“Climate change and the ravages of it are upon us, so anything anyone can do to make even a little change is so important; it all adds up,” says Volunteer Coordinator Kim Friedman.

The initiatives

—The first initiative is an already-established partnership with three private companies that have agreed to finance, permit, and build as many solar projects as the group can bring them, assuming the applicants meet specific criteria.Landowners will receive a modest annual lease payment in return.The organization has hired an intern to help identify potential sites and is looking for landowners with 2 to 3 acres, preferably cleared, who are interested in having a 150-kilowatt solar array on their properties. To learn more, contact Bill Dunkel at bdunkel1455@gmail.com.The second push is for the Windham Central Supervisory Union school district to replace its diesel-fueled school buses with electric buses.While Friedman says the group understands that such a purchase would likely need to go out to bid, the Renewable folks have had several meetings with the district business manager. The group is circulating a petition urging the switch at ipetitions.com/petition/we-need-electric-school-buses-now.To date, no action has been taken.“They’re definitely open to the possibility of converting their diesel-powered buses, but they have some concerns, mainly around cost,” says Friedman.She really would like Superintendent Bill Anton to contact Highland Electric, as that company offers a full package to make the change: infrastructure, driver training, and a program through which the district could lease electric buses rather than buy them.Benefits of electric-powered school buses — at an estimated $150,000 each — include no fumes, a 120-plus-mile range, and regenerative braking, which recovers the energy the vehicle uses to stop the vehicle.Highland estimates that upgrading a school bus fleet to electric costs about the same annually as a diesel fleet — on average, about $29,000.The third initiative is to reach all interested area businesses to offer energy assessments and help finance their investments in energy conservation, which the group calls “a critical step in paving the way to 100-percent renewable energy.”Businesses interested in an assessment should contact Peter Jewell at pjewell10@outlook.com.Jewell, the group’s Heating and Cooling Workgroup chair, is now sending letters to interested businesses.“By having a smaller, community-based group addressing the inevitable change to renewable energy, we feel we are better able to accelerate the pace of change to renewable energy as well as provide a local, well-connected resource for local businesses and community members to discuss and support this important energy transformation,” Jewell writes.He believes that “local action equals locally focused results.”“Community-based renewable energy groups such as ours are being formed all over the United States, which means we are supported by state and national networks and are able to apply solutions with local knowledge and input,” Jewell continues.His group’s five steps to achieving 100 percent renewable energy at a local level include:• taking stock of current energy use• reducing energy consumption• identifying sites for new renewable energy projects• reimagining the electric grid• catalyzing local action.One local institution, Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, has recently transitioned from using heating oil as a fuel source.“One of the first steps that a business can take, no matter how big or small, is to invest in energy conservation, thus reducing fossil fuel consumption,” says Grace Cottage facility manager Scott Hitchcock. “By replacing our oil-fueled boilers in our medical clinic with heat pumps, we reduced our fossil fuel consumption by 100 percent.”The group is also looking for more volunteers “so we can get even more accomplished more quickly,” says Friedman.To help, contact her at rockriver92@gmail.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #641 (Wednesday, December 1, 2021). This story appeared on page A4.

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