Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Note on Solar Trackers from John Norton, Board President

Dear Yestermorrow Community;

As many of you who drive by the school on Rt 100 may have noticed, there has been some construction activity in the area in front of the school between the wetland and the driveway. Seeing this several members of the community have raised serious concerns about the pending installation of solar photovoltaic trackers at Yestermorrow hard by a scenic highway. I am writing to describe the relevant details of the project and to explain the background of the decision to proceed with this project.

Last year, Yestermorrow was approached by All Earth Renewables (formerly Earth Turbines) of Williston, VT with a very attractive proposal to install solar trackers at the school. In December of last year after deliberation by the Executive Committee of the Board and discussion of the whole board, the school entered into a five year leasing agreement with All Earth Renewables for the installation of eight 4 kiloWatt solar trackers. Due to the site constraints only 7 will be installed. This is enough capacity at our location to cover 90% of the anticipated annual load of the offices, studio, shop, kitchen and dormitory. Under the terms of this lease Yestermorrow has made a nominal down payment and will pay All Earth for its energy use at its current price fixed for five years. At the end of the term of the lease the school may elect to renew the lease, buy the trackers, or have them removed. The agreement is forecast to be cost neutral for the school assuming that our cost of electricity would not have changed over the five years. This lease was signed earlier this year and All Earth has installed the concrete pilings. The project has received a Certificate of Public Good and approval from the Wetlands Division of ANR. The trackers will be installed this week. Under the terms of the lease, if Yestermorrow does not purchase or renew at the end of five years, All Earth will remove the trackers, foundations, wiring and conduit and return the site to its former state.

The site of the trackers was determined by a committee of the board working with All Earth to maximize the energy production of the trackers on Yestermorrow property. Several of the trackers are located in the wetland buffer, the balance are in the meadow just outside the buffer. None are installed in the wetland.

This decision was taken deliberately with the full awareness of the potential for controversy after careful consideration of the project’s cost benefit and relationship to the school’s mission and values and was based upon the following principles:
1) Yestermorrow must take responsibility for its own energy consumption and production, to the extent practical, and it must do so with conservation and renewable energy, in its own backyard, not someone else’s;
2) The project must conform to all federal, state and local regulations and must not adversely affect the ecological values of the site;
3) The project must be as beautiful as the current technology and site conditions permit.

We recognized that in order to proceed with the project with the resources available, this third principle would have to be compromised. Considering the “long emergency” of peak oil and the crisis of climate change, we elected to make those compromises. In the context of the 30 year history of Yestermorrow and a thirty year minimum future these compromises can be revisited in 5 years.

This is a matter on which reasonable people, with full appreciation of all the elements involved, will and do disagree, so I am challenging the Yestermorrow community – board, staff, instructors and friends, to collaborate to confront this challenge now. We see and understand the current state of the art and we now see and feel the price of its limitations, and we will soon have a laboratory in our back/front yard. To a far greater degree than any other institution I can think of, Yestermorrow has the resources to design and build, reject and design and build again solutions which will meet the full challenge of the three principles I outlined above in concert with its mission.

John “Sucosh” Norton
President, Board of Directors
Yestermorrow Design/Build School

For more on the specs of the AllSun Trackers, click here to download the spec sheet pdf


  1. Anonymous4:39 PM

    From: William Bialosky

    The problem I see with this process is that the 'design' for the next 5 years was developed in a small vacuum of the Board of Directors...which is not in and of itself a satisfactory means to build consensus around design decisions at YM.

    We get to debate about something we are powerless to affect for 5 years, doesn't sound like much fun.

    Most of us have absolutely no idea what the design looks like, other
    than that it exists. For instance, I read into the description of 5 year temporary solution to mean that the trackers would be on trailers, not columns. The columns are probably better, but who knows, only you guys have seen what is proposed, then again maybe not.

    This process should have been more transparent with the YM community,
    not unlike the new shop bldg which I think has been very transparent in the big scheme of things. It is not possible for any of us to really have an opinion or suggestion about design without visual tools.

    William Bialosky

  2. Anonymous7:56 AM

    Excellent statement of the case. I can't wait to embrace the challenge.
    If the Solar Decathalon can pursue net-zero with grace, then certainly we should give it a go.

    Whiners.....pick up your pencils!
    John Connell

  3. Anonymous7:58 AM


    Well presented and welcome to the President of the Board position!

    I am biased toward the collectors and somewhat outside the loop on the scenic concerns, though sympathetic to those also. I would suggest that a site plan locating the collectors would help outsiders with constructive input.

    My first inclination, without benefit of that site plan, is that assuming the school can plant in the meadow and buffer, some additional landscape plantings might actually improve the present scenic corridor while shielding
    the collectors from direct view from the road.

    Assuming this could be accomplished 100% I would think it might then be "under accomplished" to allow understanding from the road to the casual driver that this place YM (whatever it is) is part of the solar future.

    If done right, this overall landscaping/solar project would demonstrate how to put solar collectors into a scenic highway making both goals compatible
    and therefore more likely to be accomplished in the valley and elsewhere. The future should include large numbers of these installations along scenic
    highways nationwide. The compatibility of the two is a very universal problem.

    I think we have a landscaping problem not a solar collector problem.

    My best,

    John Ringel
    Jersey Devil, LLC

  4. Anonymous12:08 PM

    Hello All,

    Andrew Faust here. I would posit that if "1)Yestermorrow must take
    responsibility for its own energy consumption and production, to the extent practical, and it must do so with conservation and renewable energy, in its own backyard, not someone else's;

    Then I would say that there are numerous lower tech more ecological
    and less green tech consumer ways to take responsibility i.e. the well is a huge energy drain which could be SIGNIFICANTLY diminished by more rainwater and gravity fed spring systems.

    I do not support this decision from my five years of teaching and
    assessing this site and the Yestermorrow community I would have appreciated being included.We have generated a diversity of low-tech ways to increase ecological health in the way the needs are met here. High tech and tax incentives do not equal taking responsibility the are toxic in their manufacture and offer nothing but green tech token consumer products that are grid tied. They leave no autonomy they are complicated to build and maintain not in the DIY traditon of a design build school.

    Thank you for your time,

    Andrew Faust
    The Center For Bioregional Living

  5. Anonymous3:48 PM

    YM Staff & Board,

    I was amazed and deeply saddened to see the spruce grove on the north side of the YM driveway decimated. I was distressed and disappointed to learn that those magical trees were eliminated for the sake of a few more watts of solar power.

    Though I'm not privy to all the reasons or rationalizations for removing that grove, it appears that YM is once again putting cash flow ahead of the deeper mission and sanctity of the YM and broader community.

    That little triangle of space, guarded by living trees, was perhaps the most sacred site on the YM campus. It's the space in which I was called to build a stone medicine wheel for my Creating Sacred Space class in the Fall of 2006 - a class which was undermined by the narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of then board member Bill Maclay. I suspect that the decimation of that sacred grove will bode ill for YM, and it will further incite the already-expressed concern about the siting of those PV panels.

    If I hadn't already quit teaching at YM because of its refusal to put health and safety above cash flow (the smoke-free campus issue), the wanton destruction of the sacred grove may have been the last straw for me. It's ironic that a local business such as the Paradise Deli has recently become a smoke-free establishment (inside, outside and in the parking lot), while the leading school of sustainable design continues to lag behind many institutions, including the most conservative ones. And it's doubly ironic that when school children are planting trees at the VT Food Bank (Kingsbury) Farm to improve the community and global environment, YM is engaged in slash and burn.

    - Robert Riversong

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