Watts for wishes: Solar energy partnership warms hearts

Elodie Reed

By Elodie Reed

Staff Writer

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ST. ALBANS — Everyone’s day was made a little brighter Monday. There was a Make-A-Wish Vermont donation, a foster child recovering from leukemia with her forever mom, Vermont’s dedication to clean energy finding success as solar panels churned out electricity, and the sun above.

“It’s a great day to be celebrating a solar project and celebrating a community donation,” said AllEarth Renewables CEO David Blittersdorf at the Northwest State Correctional Facility (NSCF).

Everything came together at the St. Albans prison, where Dept. of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito, Blittersdorf, project development company SolarSense CEO Chris Fraga, Make-A-Wish Vermont CEO James Hathaway, Alburgh nine-year-old Taylor Wells and her adoptive mother, Cheryl, and a number of others gathered.

Everyone stood amidst 65 solar trackers (24 panels each), a 500-kilowatt, $1.8 million project that went live last December. The trackers, manufactured and maintained by AllEarth Renewables of Williston and kept on land leased from the state, generate around 800,000 kilowatt-hours per year for the facility and seven other state buildings in Montpelier.

In addition to providing renewable fossil fuel-free energy, the solar project at NSCF, two others recently built at the St. Johnsbury and Winsdor prisons and more state solar projects planned for the future, are expected to save Vermont $2.5 million over 20 years.

Looking towards the future, the Vermont Public Service Department has set the goal to have 90 percent of the state’s energy needs met by renewable energy by 2050.

“This is just the beginning of a lot of solar we have to build,” said Blittersdorf.

As for the three recently completed projects, they were financially backed by SolarSense, which also has a “Watts for Wishes” charitable donation program.

That is what Monday was all about. Fraga presented a $6,500 check to Make-A-Wish Vermont and Taylor Wells, who was granted her wish to go with her family to Disney World. Wells, who is in her second year of remission from leukemia, visited the theme park in April 2014.

“We’re just so proud to be able to present a check to Make-A-Wish Vermont,” said Fraga. As he handed the check to Hathaway, he added, “All our best to Make-A-Wish and to dreams coming true.”

The check made possible one of the over 700 “wishes” that have been granted to Vermont children living with a life-threatening illness over the past 25 years.

Hathaway said, “This is about recovery – this is about giving hope and strength.” He added, “What your donation does today is give hope and strength.”

Those are two qualities Wells needed as she lay in a hospital bed two years ago. The curly-haired, smiling girl seen Monday was in foster care as she battled blood cancer.

In August 2013, Wells met her would-be adoptive mother, Cheryl, who was providing foster care for other children in her Alburgh home. “[She] was in need a home to go to,” said Cheryl. “We met on a Monday and I brought Taylor on a Wednesday, and she’s never going to leave.”

Cheryl also adopted two other girls to bring home to her two biological daughters. “Now we’re a forever family,” she said.

When asked why Taylor chose Disney World as her “wish,” Cheryl said, “Taylor was trying to find a wish that included everybody. We all went.”

Wells told everyone about the fun time she had. “I saw the princesses and it was so amazing,” she said. “I even saw Mickey Mouse.”

Commissioner Pallito commented on the specialness of Wells’ story and the entire event, and how having so many different entities involved and working together for good – the state, AllEarth Renewable Energy, SolarSense and Make-A-Wish Vermont – made it happen.

“We need partners to do this sort of thing,” he said. “I would never have thought of this. (It’s) really very neat.”

According to AllEarth Renewables chief strategy officer Andrew Savage, this was the first, though most likely not the last time renewable energy and charity come together on the community level in Franklin County and in Vermont.

“It’s actually really something nice – there’s the sort of big picture of our energy use and climate change, and then something as community focused and local as a child in need,” said Savage. “I think this will be the first of many to come as more (renewable) projects get put in.”