Waitsfield residents and town officials have joined in the state and nationwide conversation about renewable energy projects and possibilities. Members of the Waitsfield Planning Commission heard a preliminary proposal for a solar orchard, a community-based shared model for alternative energy collection and distribution, and Friends of the Northfield Ridge are actively pursuing such a project.

The model makes harnessing solar energy possible for a much wider range of property owners or renters who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford an individual on-site installation or whose land is not appropriate for an individual on-site installation.

Once a resident buys into the orchard or farm, they own the rights to the energy produced by the panel, which pays energy credits to ratepayers after passing through the grid and back to the utility company.

In Pownal, Vermont, a $10 million solar facility proposed for the former Green Mountain racetrack was approved by the Vermont Public Service Board. A certificate of public good was issued in September.

The applicant is EOS Ventures, which will own, operate, maintain and pay for the 10-acre strip of panels proposed for the 144-acre site.

Also in Pownal, according to Vermont Public Radio, Beaver Wood Energy is planning a 29-megawatt biomass project that would also make wood pellets on the other side of the old racetrack. The energy plan includes a boiler system with an approximately 180-foot-tall smokestack. The permitting process is underway.

In Ferrisburgh, a 16-acre state-owned parcel is being developed to house a one-megawatt solar electric farm on Route 7 near the Vergennes High School.

The Ferrisburgh solar farm (FSF) will consist of 180 ground-mounted south-facing solar arrays on seven acres, to date the largest solar project of its kind in the state. If approved, FSF will power an average of 170 homes per year.

According to reports from the Addison County Independent, the parcel is owned by investors in Addison Solar Farm LLC, who chose the land due to its south-facing orientation.

The project is under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Board, which granted Addison Solar Farm LLC a certificate of public good on August 3.

In Vermont, net-metering gives individuals who purchase solar (or wind) power-producing systems to get energy credits by feeding power back to the grid. Solar orchards allow collective installations to be developed and shared amongst neighbors or ratepayers who buy into the farm or orchard.

Members of the Friends of the Northfield Ridge, the site of a proposed large-scale wind farm, are actively exploring the feasibility of a similar project in Waitsfield or other Valley towns.