BRANDON — An annual solar festival that’s drawn upwards of 7,000 people over the course of a weekend is looking for a permanent home. Brandon is one of the candidates.
Michael Bailey, who sits on the board of trustees for SolarFest and serves as its treasurer, said Monday that he and a few other people associated with the festival plan to look over several sites around Brandon in early October.
SolarFest has been around for 25 years. Since 2016, it’s been held at Earth Sky Time Community Farm in Manchester. This year and last year it was a virtual event, owing to the global coronavirus pandemic. While it’s mainly a showcase for solar power technology, the event features live music, food and other entertainment.
Bailey said it looks to draw anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 people over the course of a weekend, but in one of the years, when it was held in Tinmouth, the festival drew about 7,000.
While the event has moved around since its inception, Bailey said the time has come for it to find a permanent home where it can offer year-round events and programs in addition to its annual festival. A private donor has offered $65,000 toward that goal; another private donor matched that amount; and between those two amounts plus smaller donations and grants, SolarFest has around $200,000 to get started on a permanent location.
Bailey said the board of trustees for SolarFest sent a letter to 44 communities between Brandon and Bennington asking whether they’d be interested in helping SolarFest find a site to permanently set up. It heard back from 12; Brandon was among them.
“We’re still in search mode; we’re looking for the perfect location to have a large festival, with parking and all the things that it requires, as well as the ongoing year-round activities that we want to include,” Bailey said.
No commitments or final decisions have been made, he said, but Brandon would be a strong candidate for SolarFest’s permanent home given its robust arts community and the town government’s activities surrounding renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions.
He said one of the properties being considered is state-owned land in the town.
According to Selectman Tim Guiles, the property being referred to is Park Village, known to many locals as the former “Training School.”
He also stressed that no decisions or commitments have been made with regards to the 100-acre property, but given that it hosts the town’s solar array and isn’t near many people, it’s a strong candidate for what SolarFest wants to do.
Guiles said that separate from the SolarFest talk, the town has been thinking about engaging the state in possibly leasing the site long-term for a larger solar project, possibly incorporating American Recovery Plan Act funding, but nothing has been decided, he said.
Given the audience SolarFest can draw, Guiles said it could be an economic boon for the town should it move forward.
Bailey said SolarFest isn’t in a rush to complete the process, and has many sites to look over. While its virtual event this year drew 1,000 people, including individuals from China and around Africa, possibly raising the event’s profile, and leaving it with an online digital library, going back to in-person events in 2022 would be preferable.