Solar energy gets a big boost in Vermont

BURLINGTON - Reliable solar power in Vermont just got a big shot in the arm. Thanks to $500,000 in taxpayer funds and additional public and private dollars, the Champlain Housing Trust will install the latest solar hot-water technology in four, affordable-housing developments in the region. The effort will significantly reduce the use of heating oil and help shrink the "carbon footprint" of these developments.

The $500,000 grant will be "bested" by $700,000 in additional public and private funds. When completed, the solar project will be the largest government- and private-assisted effort of its kind in Vermont.

The energy efficient and money saving solar water systems will be installed at the Salmon Run Apartments in Burlington, the Highgate Apartments in Barre, Westgate Apartments in Brattleboro, and Applegate Apartments in Bennington, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Future, similar solar-energy projects may include public and private housing Addison and Rutland counties.

According to U.S. Department of Energy data, more than 25 percent of the average Vermont household's annual energy usage is devoted to simply heating water. The DOE data does not include the amount of hot-water energy usage by the state's business and agriculture sectors.

Some of the money that will be used to install the solar-powered heaters originated as a U.S. Department of Energy taxpayer funded grant.

In the case of Salmon Run in Burlington, 80 apartments will use the power of the Sun to heat water that is used for bathing and washing purposes.

"At a time when we are spending $350 billion a year importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries, it is important that the United States move away from foreign oil to energy independence," Sanders said. "Programs like this are a major step forward."

Sanders said he helped secure the funds to install the housing project solar systems at a news conference held at Salmon Run, Jan. 13.

When installed at the four Vermont housing sites, solar hot-water heaters will be used in 402 apartments (with approximately 1,000 apartment dwellers).

The solar hot-water systems that will be used in the Vermont housing developments are expected to pay for themselves in five or more years.

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