Sunday, April 1, 2012

Collaboration Pays Off Between Consumer Group, Solar Company and A Youth Training Organization

They test water quality. They praise solar energy. They bring children into natural settings and let them marvel at their surroundings. They fight light pollution.
A solar hot water heating unit, similar to one of dozens
installed in a collaboration between Sunward, the Vermont Public
Interest Research Group and ReSOURCE YouthBuild.

Those qualities describe some of the finalists for the second annual Green Mountain Environmental Leadership Awards, which honors work in three categories:

• Collaboration, which celebrates individuals and groups who band together to combat an environmental threat or improve their surroundings.

• Citizen Scientist, which honors people who might not have any kind of intense scientific training, but who nonetheless figure out how to deal with a vexing environmental issue.

• Persistence, which recognizes people who grab on to a problem and don’t let go until the everything is resolved.

The Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, AllEarth Renewables and the Burlington Free Press are co-sponsoring the awards.

An April 17 ceremony at the waterfront Echo Center in Burlington will present awards to one winning nominee in each category. Leading up to that ceremony, the Burlington Free Press is profiling the finalists.

Members of an environmental and consumer advocacy organization, a youth employment training agency and a solar power company all believe it’s best to let the sun shine in, especially when it can save people a lot of money on their hot water bills.

The company, Sunward, the environmental group, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, and ReSOURCE Youthbuild are finalists for the Collaboration Award as part of the second annual Green Mountain Environmental Leadership Awards. The Collaboration category celebrates people and organizations that teamed up to solve a vexing environmental issue.

In this case, Sunward, a Vergennes-based installer of solar hot water systems, and VPIRG’s collaboration made the up-front costs of installing solar hot water heating systems in homes less expensive than they otherwise would be. That meant these homeowners eventually would save money on utility bills, while using clean energy that would emit fewer greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, or other pollutants

The organizations teamed up to make solar hot water systems more affordable for at least 175 homeowners last year.

The project tied together organizations that had a natural affinity for one another, but no common project. The solar hot water systems became that collaborative project, said Thomas Hughes of Sunward.

VPIRG pushed the solar water project because it fit its mission to protect consumers and the environment. Sunward had similar goals and was in the business of selling solar hot water systems, so the idea fit perfectly into the company’s plans, Hughes said.

Initial costs of installing the solar hot water systems are about $8,400, Hughes said. With government incentives, help with permits and efficiencies derived from focusing on a relatively narrow geographic area, the initial costs to homeowners is about $5,000, he said.

Sunward handled the paperwork and obtained the permits to install the solar heating systems, making it easier for the homeowners to navigate the process of obtaining the equipment.

Depending upon the fuel type that homeowners previously used to heat their hot water, people who obtained the systems could recoup their initial investment within six to 10 years, Hughes said.

Help with installing the solar hot water systems came from the ReSOURCE Youthbuild program. The organization, based in Burlington and Barre, trains 16-to-24-year-olds who have dropped out of school so they can obtain skills in the building trades.

The young people learned how to install solar hot water systems and worked on a large proportion of the heating systems under the program.

“They were terrific,” Hughes said.


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