Energy Clinic Overview
In September of 2014, the Institute for Energy and the Environment launched the first full academic year energy clinic in the U.S. While at many schools, energy means oil and gas, at VLS we teach energy in the context of justice and the environment and what we want the world to be in 50 years. Our energy clinic is focused on community renewable development, particularly legal models that advance community solar ownership. Students from other schools across the U.S. have come to VLS to work in our Energy Clinic because our passion and special training is concerned with the energy policy of the future. As a result, our students have been hired directly from the Energy Clinic to meaningful positions in renewable energy development.
Vermont Law School's Energy Clinic provides opportunities for our JD, LLM and Master of Energy Regulation and Law students to progressively develop the knowledge, skills, and values integral to the field of energy law and policy, while helping our clients meet local energy needs with reliable, clean and affordable resources. Energy clinicians undertake projects to resolve energy policy challenges, in a sustainable and socially equitable manner, for both the local community and the world.
During the Energy Clinic's first year, energy clinicians actively developed and promoted improved models for community solar that maximize the environmental and economic benefits available for the community members. Student clinicians developed model group net metering and purchase power agreements that are openly available for community use. Clinicians utilize these agreements to collaborate with solar installers and community based organizations to advance community solar projects. According to professor Kevin Jones, "the Energy Clinic allows us to expand upon classroom theory and give students the opportunity to develop the actual legal structures for community solar, as well as implement real projects."
For the 2015-16 academic year the Energy Clinic is working in multiple project areas. The Energy Clinic's leading community solar work continues with work on multiple community solar projects under development as well as work on state policy to advance community solar. We are in the process of expanding our community solar outreach across New England and beyond. The Energy Clinic is also investigating barriers to low-income solar ownership with the hope of improving access to solar ownership so that clean, distributed solar can help reduce, rather than increase, income inequality. The Energy Clinic has begun working with local farmers who are interested in exploring the development of microhydro from local mountain springs and with the Vermont Farmers Food Center in Rutland to explore energy efficiency options and other sustainable means to manage thier energy use. Finally, the Energy Clinic has worked on two projects focused on advancing the use of anaerobic biodigesters to create both energy and compost from agriculture and food waste.
Future projects will promote both climate change mitigation and adaptation. In addition to community solar, future clinicians can expect to work on client projects to support building energy efficiency, electric vehicle infrastructure, and local energy system resiliency.
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For an update on our White River Community Solar Project you can read or listen to Vermont Public Radio's 5/3/16 report on the project......VRP on White River Community Solar.
The Energy Clinic team's report explains how Vermont's flawed renewable energy policy, which allows the out of state sale of renewable energy credits from projects funded by state programs, has resulted in the Vermont energy mix including 0% Solar and 0% Wind resources and growing greenhouse gas emissions from the electric sector. The report makes recommendations on how to change these policies for the future. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.
On December 8, 2015 the Vermont Attorney General's Office issued guidance explaining how solar providers should market products that do not transfer the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to their customers. Unfortunately a number of solar developers in Vermont are encouraging Vermonters to "Go Solar" with their products when the provider is not really selling solar energy to the customer. According to the AG's Office "if a solar provider retains and then sells the RECs then it is deceptive to state or imply that the electricity consumed from that solar project is 'renewable,' 'clean,' 'green,' etc." Unfortunately this practice is all too common in Vermont particularly with products marketed as "Community Solar Arrays." By our estimates over half of the claimed community solar in Vermont is not really selling solar energy to the Vermont consumer or reducing the Vermont customers carbon footprint. This practice is taking advantage of Vermont consumers and harming the environment. Congratulations to Vermont AG Bill Sorrell and his staff for playing a leadership role in protecting Vermonters and the planet. The VLS Energy Clinic continues to play a leadership role in promoting responsible solar development and protecting Vermont solar consumers. Make sure you ask your solar company whether they are selling you the RECs. If you have questions you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your can find more information about the guidelines here.
You can read a VLS Energy Clinic Commentary on deceptive solar practices here.
The Energy Clinic developed the RFP and evaluated 7 excellent proposals before selecting Tunbridge Solar as the winner. This 500 kW of local solar will result in over half of the VLS campus electricity use offset by local solar power. Like all of our campus solar projects the Tunbridge Solar array will utilize SolarWorld panels. SolarWorld is the largest solar panel manufacturer in the U.S. The Tunbridge Solar design includes having the panels four feet off the ground to allow sheep grazing on the land. At the VLS Energy Clinic our students work for sustainable energy solutions for the local community and the world.
VLS Energy Clinicians advised the landowners, who run a Vermont Land Trust conserved organic farm, on how to ensure that all future member owners of this unique 180 kW community solar project keep the renewable energy credits bundled with the net metered energy and thus reduce Vermont's carbon footprint. Unfortunately, too many so-called community solar projects are separating the RECs from the net metered energy and not reducing the local carbon footprint as net metered customers often believe. Because of the work of the VLS Energy Clinic, not only will this farmland be forever conserved, but the solar farm will for the next 20 years reduce the farms and the LLC member owners local carbon footprint. At the VLS Energy Clinic we work for sustainable energy solutions for the local community and the world.
The summer 2016 Energy Clinic team visits a client site to explore the permitting issues related to micro hydro from a mountain spring. The Energy Clinic is helping a local farm assess the environmental and energy regulatory permitting issues for micro hydro. The clinic as part of the project will develop a micro hydro guide to inform others who want to tap into this clean energy resource. When it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of Vermont communities every kilowatt counts. It was a beautiful Vermont summer day for the Energy Clinic field trip and the farm's strawberries were fabulous!
One of the new project teams for the Energy Clinic for 2015-16 is our Community Anaerobic Biodigester Project. This project team is working throughout the academic year to help advance the development of Anaerobic Biodigesters in Vermont. Vermont's Act 148 mandates the separation of food waste from the municipal waste stream and this fascinating technology provides sustainable solutions that can both produce organic compost and electricity from captured methane. The first stage of the Energy Clinic's work looks at environmentally responsible options for managing the liquidbyproducts of the biodigester. The Energy Clinic's preliminary report can be found here.
These students from Puerto Rico, Seattle and Chicago left their mark on VLS through their leadership in successfully bringing 500 kW of solar to South Royalton, Vermont. Before the end of 2015 this successful energy clinic project will source over 50% of the schools electric use from locally developed clean solar energy.
Energy Clinic Resources
Professor Kevin Jones explains on WCAX the :30 why Vermont's renewable energy programs are flawed and do not lead to additional greenhouse gas reductions.