By Steve Goldsmith
Twenty years ago the renewable energy landscape was very different from what it is today. There were no grid-interactive renewable energy systems, no “smart grid” and no real-time monitoring of power production over the Internet. There were very few manufacturers of renewable energy systems and installers were few and far between. Other than traditional fluorescent tubes, the closest thing to high-efficiency lighting was the halogen bulb; compact fluorescent lights hadn’t yet become commercially available. Very few people had ever seen a solar panel and even fewer knew anyone with one on their roof. Solar power was used by people living out of reach of commercial power lines and required a lot of effort, conservation and constant battery maintenance.
It was when enthusiasm for renewable energy was just growing, in 1994, when a small group of friends with a passion for music and solar powered living had a radical idea: hold a concert in rural Vermont, and power it completely off grid and entirely with renewable energy. Like most truly great ideas, it was part crazy and part revolutionary. It was to attract people with a unique blend of music, the arts and hands on experiential learning, showcase renewable energy in action and highlight the urgent need for sustainable living. They acted on their idea and SolarFest was born.
Through twenty years of evolution, SolarFest has become one of the largest and longest- running renewable energy and sustainability events in the country. Bill McKibben, author of the “The End of Nature,” the first book for a general audience about climate change, said, “If there is any place that can lay claim to having started this revolution 20 years ago it was Vermont and SolarFest.” Long before the world took notice that renewable energy is viable, long before countries generated large amounts of their electricity with solar and wind, long before any large scale commercial solar deployments, there was SolarFest.
SolarFest has energized tens of thousands of people who have come to learn how they can make positive changes in their daily lives, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, live more sustainably, learn a new skill, and become more involved in their community to help others.
Today, right up the road from SolarFest, Rutland is striving to be the Solar Capital of New England, and the terms climate change and sustainable living have become mainstream. Solar panels dot the roofs of houses and large commercial solar deployments and wind farms can be seen throughout the region. In fact, solar power is the fastest growing source of electricity in the world. Energy and sustainability issues are on the minds of consumers, government agencies and communities. Most towns now have active energy committees, many of which were started at SolarFest. There are dozens of community and regional renewable energy and sustainability initiatives and events, but there is still only one SolarFest.
This year SolarFest will offer nearly 100 workshops on renewable energy, green building and thriving communities. 350Vermont will be offering a workshop track on climate change. Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum will provide children’s activities and some youth and family workshops. Green Mountain College’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Production Program will be developing workshops on sustainable agriculture. A new play by renowned author Frank Asch will debut, and the SolarFest Mini Maker Faire® will bring together regional Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts to learn from and be inspired by the creativity and innovation of Makers.
SolarFest continues to empower and inspire people to make positive change in their lives, and in their communities. SolarFest is proud of its role in New England’s renewable energy and sustainability revolution. Join us July 18, 19 and 20th in Tinmouth Vermont for the 20th anniversary festival.
Steve Goldsmith is the President of SolarFest, Inc.