Online Vt. atlas aims to promote renewable energy - Dave Gram

Online Vt. atlas aims to promote renewable energy

Apr 22, 2010 - Dave Gram - The Associated Press

Anyone wanting to know where in Vermont the likely spots are for wind-power generators or good sources for biodiesel fuel has a powerful new tool to use.

The Vermont Energy Atlas is an online, interactive, multilayered mapping system with a wealth of information for renewable energy developers, government officials and the curious.

A project of the nonprofit Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the atlas allows anyone with access to a computer to see what's happening in their community and others with wind power, geothermal, biomass and other forms of renewable energy.

Scott Sawyer, who headed up the $250,000 project, led visitors to his office behind the Montpelier fire station on a virtual tour of the site this week.

After clicking a button labeled "start analysis," he selected the southwestern Vermont town of Shaftsbury, went to the website's section on biomass energy sources, clicked on the link to biodiesel and came up with "State Line Biofuels," which the site describes as "Vermont's first on-farm facility producing biodiesel from oilseed crops grown on-site."

People curious about installing a solar electric system can find their location on the map, roughly measure annual sunshine and find links to local companies that do solar installations.

The site is designed to get policymakers and other residents "to think about what our resources are," Sawyer said. "Here's the energy flowing through our communities." Most comes from Middle Eastern oil, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and the provincial utility Hydro-Quebec.

"What if these dollars were spent locally? What if that energy were produced locally? How would that change things?" Sawyer asked.

Most of the money for the effort Sawyer is heading is coming from the U.S. Department of Energy under a grant secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

"Vermont has always stood for best practices in commercial and residential development to preserve the environment," Leahy said. The atlas "will be an important tool in helping us all to consider the responsible energy options," he added.

The atlas is a work in progress, and the website will be updated continually as new data become available, Sawyer said. Information it already contains about wood as biomass fuel and potential wind sites will be completely updated within the coming year, he said.

Cooperating in the work are the Clean Energy Development Fund of the state Department of Public Service and Fountains Spatial, a private Montpelier firm that helped with the technical design of the site.

Andrew Perchlik, director of the Clean Energy Development Fund, said he hoped the site would "get people's imaginations rolling on how Vermont can produce more of its own energy from local renewable resources."

He described two examples of ways renewable energy supporters might use the site to check on how they're doing. Over time, the maps should show any geographic regions that are coming up short in receiving state funds for renewable energy development, Perchlik said. It also will show which utilities are doing the most - and the least - in promoting use of renewable energy by their customers.

On the Net: