It's was a bright and sunny weekend -- just the kind organizers of Vermont's annual Solar Fest hoped for.
The laid back. three-day day event is part music fest, part solar showcase, said event manager, Patty Kenyon. "Arts and education really go together really well and people are relaxed and having a good time -- they learn more," she said.
Thousands of sun saluters flocked to a farm in Tinmouth, some sleeping in tents, some just there for the day."I think what people who are really plugged into solar come here for is to recharge their batteries," Kenyon said.
Like Fearn Lickfield -- It's been ten years since she was last at the fest. "It's a beautiful spot. The energy here is fabulous. There are loads of people doing good workshops and people doing good things and inspiring each other to live more sustainably," she said.
There were vendors of all types -- from bookstores, to natural soaps and cleaning products. Aside from artisans, many were there to sell the concept of solar power to the masses. Like Michael Dion with Massachusetts-based hot water heater company, Stiebel Eltron. "It's been a little bit on the decline now. Some states have really good incentive programs, so that helps. But for residential it's really tough because cost wise, some people don't want to make the leap," he said.
According to Renewable Energy Vermont, the average cost of a solar home heating system is 30-thousand dollars. With federal and state rebates and incentives, the price can drop to just over 18-thousand. The cost to install a solar water heater is between 9 and 12 thousand, but with the incentives it can drop to about 54-hundred.
"We actually had a really good year in 2008, the gas prices were high so people were really buying a lot of solar," Dion said. But he says in recent years, the products aren't quite flying off the shelves. "It's hard to compete with the energy sources we have now -- like natural gas anyway, and with uncertainty in subsidies and incentives and stuff, sales are only going to go down."
But the festival aims to reel the interested back in -- like Patrick Beckwith. "I've always been interested in it but way back when it was some what financially not within my pocketbook -- to be honest," said the Middletown Springs resident. He thinks he found the product for his home Sunday, but because it runs off power from the sun, there's still that one catch. "It only works during the day, but you know what, if it can take 30 or 40 percent off my heating bill during the winter I'll be ecstatic," he said.
Critics say there are other drawbacks to solar, too -- the batteries used to store the suns rays have limitations and though the equipment often pays for itself in less than a decade, the start up cost sends many into sticker shock. Organizers say despite all of that, solar is the way to go. "They just want that 60 dollar electric bill. They don't realize that it's a long term investment. So I think that if they thought about it in a way of buying a car, you just buy it once then never have to buy that again," Patty Kenyon said.
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