By Dave Bonta
Richard Gottlieb and Carol Levin ran Sunnyside Solar for over thirty years from their home in Guilford, Vermont. They sold their first PV panel in 1983, and have helped thousands learn about solar, either as students, installers or customers. Their remarkable story started in a renovated barn that Carol created as the Chelsea House Folklore Center, in 1974. Richard met his future wife here, at the edge of West Brattleboro, during the famous concerts and contradances. Today the Chelsea Royal Diner, on the same property, still sports the name. The couple married at the Chelsea House in September 1979.
After the Chelsea House Folklore Center closed in 1981, Richard and Carol decided to dedicate their work to solar photovoltaics (PV). Richard had received his master’s degree in Solar Energy from Goddard College, but he was a true pioneer in solar even before that. His first experience working with PV was on Project Vanguard, which launched some of the earliest US satellites. He installed the solar cells on the first satellite to use solar PV, which was used to measure temperature in space.
The original Sunnyside Solar store designed and installed systems for such notables as Pete Seeger, providing solar powered sound for Pete’s Hudson River Revival. They also did work for Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, outfitting their vehicles with PV to do solar education. Carol and Richard were committed to promoting solar and renewable energy, participating in the development of Renewable Energy Vermont (REV), solar-powered sound at the first SolarFest in Vermont, taught many PV and renewable energy classes at Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts and at Ulster BOCES in New York State, as well as other locations.
Although Richard died in 2012, his legend is that of a veritable member of a ‘Who’s Who’ of solar. He understood, well before many of us that renewables could be a real solution to meet our energy needs. The legendary Sunnyside Solar had to be closed after Richard’s death.
There are some things that call for action to make them right, and there are times when a person finds he can help. I found myself in that position, through a Sunnyside Solar “reboot.” I have opened 40 Solar Stores over the last dozen years and have learned how to help them to succeed.
Recently, Carol has been seeing the industry she helped found to be finally growing up. But now, she has also seen the old business returning to its proper place. We made some calls, and raised some money. The USA Solar Store provided some support. And so, amazingly, the Sunnyside Solar Store is back at the Chelsea House Folklore Center. A Grand Opening Celebration will be held on October 26th at the 499 Marlboro Road location of the store, in West Brattleboro. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm. Stop in!
Dave Bonta is President and Founder of USA Solar Stores.