First Branch Sustainability Project Is Getting Started  By Emily Marshia “A combination of rising fuel costs, international politics and global climate change has prompted a group of concerned citizens to form The First Branch Sustainability Project,” reads the introduction of an email circulating around central Vermont from Chelsea resident Phillip Mulligan. One of this project’s first initiatives is called the Solar Hot Water Challenge. Mulligan and a small group of area residents have set a goal to steward the purchase of 50 solar hot water heaters in the area by May 1, 2007. So far, they have received 85 inquiries from people interested in the project. The group evolved out of some Tunbridge planning sessions based on a call to action around society’s dependence on fossil fuels and global climate change. Ideally, members would like to “reinvent life without fossil fuels. In doing so we think we will strengthen our community’s economy, air and water quality and quality of life.” Group members Kathryn Parlin of Chelsea, Rob Benson of Vershire, Hannah Dennison of Washington, Chris Wood of Strafford, and Dan Retz of Hartford are curseeking affiliation with an established organization to acquire non-profit status. Most recently, there is an effort underway to assist people with constructing their own solar hot water heaters, as opposed to purchasing a pre-made unit, to help save money. The committee estimates that in Vermont, a solar hot water system can supply 95% of a household’s hot water needs in the summer and 50% in the winter. For more information, contact Phillip Mulligan at 685-7784 or phillip@ sover. net.Nice. I think the First Branchers might want to hook up with the Relocalization Network  that’s grown out of the Post Carbon Institute . Hmmm, now that I browse the network, it looks like First Branch might already have made the link, only under the name “Post Carbon Tunbridge Vermont .” Well, if you are in the greater Tunbridge metropolitan area, consider getting involved. Since Henry listed his email address in the op-ed, I hope he won’t mind if I also post it here: swayze@ pngusa. net.
One of my favorite books on the upcoming Spring list is Greg Pahl’s Citzen-Powered Energy Handbook. It surveys the various renewable energy sources, explaining the basics of how they work, what the pros and cons are of each, and profiling examples of use. What’s most interesting to me is that Pahl also emphasizes the ways that local community groups (or official town organizations) can implement local energy projects at the medium scale. That is, larger than just for a single home, but smaller than a utility-scale system intended for tens of thousands of users. He’s got in mind energy co-ops, and collectives, and that kind of thing; projects that provide local renewable energy in a way that brings a community together, keeps energy dollars circulating within the community, and provides the community with energy insurance against the problems of peak oil and global warming (and the likely increases in fossil energy costs that will come with each). Then lo and behold, in yesterday’s Valley News  [article not online], I read an op-ed by Henry Swayze of Tunbridge, VT, on the local energy group that he’s a part of there, the First Branch Sustainability Project. They are interested in more than just energy, though concern over energy issues is the unifiying issue for members. I Googled the First Branch, and here’s an article from The (Randolph) Herald on the group’s founding recently: