VT State Representative Takes Extra Pride
in Local Manufacturing Business
By N.R. Mallery
Sarah Copeland Hanzas, a Democrat, represents Bradford, Fairlee and West Fairlee in the Vermont House of Representatives. She takes special pride in the environmental work done by her constituents, increasing their efficiency and installing renewable power. Now, she is doubly proud of her father’s business, Copeland Furniture. It has a long history of being green, and it has just become greener.
Tim and Jenny Copeland started their furniture business in Bradford in 1975. They have built a reputation of being leaders in green living since then. Jenny is a member of the town’s Conservation Committee. Tim made his business an example of green manufacturing. He installed efficiency systems and sustainable practices that made sense over the years. His business was a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Much of the business’ power came from a cogeneration system that also supplied heat for the plant. Wood for their furniture is from locally sourced and sustainably grown forests. The company is moving constantly toward more environmentally friendly finishes. The facility was, in fact, state of the art in nearly every way. Solar power waited, however, for just the right time.
Most people do not consider themselves fortunate to have contaminated land next door, but it turned out to be lucky for the Copelands. The land next to the Copeland Furniture manufacturing plant had become contaminated from dry-cleaning done by a manufacturer of athletic jerseys, who previously owned the adjacent location. Chemicals from that business contaminated the soil on the three-acre site. When land is polluted in such a way, there is not a lot that can be done with it. Nevertheless, there was one thing they could do with the land that made perfect sense to them. That was to use it for a solar array.
“We decided about a year ago,” Tim Copeland said. “We’d known about solar for years, but the immediate impetus came from Green Mountain Power. GMP was looking at the feasibility of doing 500-kilowatt sites, the largest systems allowed for net metering, and queried their customer base about possible sites. GMP decided not to move forward with their program, but we were intrigued enough to want to do it ourselves. Vermont’s net-metering program and the State and Federal tax credits make it financially attractive.
“Financially it made sense in addition to doing someone good on that field that was otherwise useless,” Tim Copeland said. Though the contamination issue was costly for the business, the solar system on this site would provide about 75% to 80% of the power needed in the plant. Under net metering, it would get 19¢ per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the electricity, the same amount paid by customers who buy cow power.
Of course, even with incentives and other help from both the federal and state governments, the 500-kilowatt system needed financing, as it would cost $1.4 million. Ledyard National Bank, of Hanover, New Hampshire, was the primary lender. Tim Copeland also wanted a nearby solar installer to do the job. He chose Catamount Solar, of Randolph, Vermont, as the general contractor.
Construction of the solar system was started at the end of June. The array is on schedule, and should be complete and grid-connected on about August 15, just as Green Energy Times is going to press.
“Our interest in sustainability is rooted in the concepts of conservation and stewardship of resources. Waste of resources or spoilage of the environment is never a good thing. As it relates to the solar installation, why wouldn’t we use 850,000 kwh/year of “free” energy, effectively reducing the marginal amount of energy that would otherwise need to be produced by burning oil, coal or gas and achieve a reduction of 1,000,000 [pounds] in CO2 emissions.”
It might be worth mention that another solar array is just across the street from the one Copeland Furniture is building. This belongs to Farmway, which is now 100% powered by the sun. Neither business was especially influenced by the work of the other, in this matter. Tim Copeland was very much aware of the Farmway array, and appreciated its value, but went on his own thinking. (Cpuld there be something going around?) Copeland gives credit to is the typical environmental ethic of people raised in Vermont. “The ethic of conservation runs deep and long,” he has said. “It’s not a recent fad. It has nothing to do with politics. It’s simply taking care of the land that you live on.”