Exploring future of energy generation

Dr. Richard Smardon and Marshall Webb, with Moderator Fran Stoddard, explored the important topic of harnessing energy and addressing climate change in a Community Conversation held at All Souls Interfaith Gathering on March 30.
Dr. Richard Smardon and Marshall Webb, with Moderator Fran Stoddard, explored the important topic of harnessing energy and addressing climate change in a Community Conversation held at All Souls Interfaith Gathering on March 30.

When Richard Smardon and Marshall Webb were students at Shelburne Village School, they were good friends, and visited one another’s homes to play and for sleep overs. It is certain that words like ‘renewable energy’ and ‘climate change’ never entered their pre-teen conversations.

Fast forward several decades, and they find themselves deeply engaged in subjects as complex and challenging as the visual impact of energy development on the landscape and the harnessing of light and energy, with Smardon, formerly chair of the department of environmental studies at SUNY, now SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, having written many books on the subject and advised government bodies around the world, and Webb, active on a more locally focused level, engaged in ensuring that Shelburne Farms is blazing trails in energy efficiency, reducing Co2 emissions, using biomass for heating and installing a two-acre solar orchard as well as solar panels on the roof of the Children’s Farmyard.

Webb and Smardon met for the first time in many years on Wednesday, March 30 to share their thoughts, experiences and strategies for a better energy efficient future in a Community Conversation moderated by Fran Stoddard. It was the second in a three-conversation series on the subject “Lighten Up: Harnessing Light and Energy.” The conversation series is co-sponsored by Shelburne Farms, Shelburne Museum, All Souls Interfaith Gathering and Pierson Library.

Stoddard opened the conversation with a challenge: if Vermont hopes to attain its goal of producing 90% of its energy from renewables by 2050, how is that possible? Smardon commented that the easy answer to producing the energy we all need, want and use, without emitting CO2 is to get the power from water, sun, and wind. “But then we run into the aesthetics part of any project,” he said. “Then we’re into the muck.”

Webb used Photoshop to illustrate some of challenges. Wind turbines on ridgelines (his illustration had three turbines standing atop Lone Tree Hill at Shelburne Farms) might be the best location for catching the most wind and generating the most power, but a compromise would be to place a turbine in a more inconspicuous location, save the viewscape and still capture the wind power. He showed an aerial view of the 15-acre solar array at Meach Cove, virtually invisible from any direction and producing enough power for 256 average American homes.

Both Webb and Smardon described the success of smaller solar and wind installations that produce the energy used by the homes and businesses nearby. This has been successful in part of Europe, in the north where they have lots of wind and harness wind energy and in the south where they are using solar. The challenge in the United States, they agreed, is that every state has a different configuration for their decision-making.

They also agreed that compromise would be needed and that cutting back on power usage could be part of the solution. Currently the U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population and annually uses 25% of the world’s energy.

Visions for the future? Smardon held out hope for smaller scale renewables installations for local use, such as micro-grids, locally owned and supplying power for their community, as well as biomass using fast-growing willow and hydro kinetic wave energy. Webb pointed to a future in which in addition to using solar, wind, and biomass, he is excited about carbon-negative energy projects with farmers paid to sequester carbon, adding an income stream, increasing the ability of soil to hold nutrients, and growing more food with less water.