Our Friend Dave Conna
SolarFest lost a great friend and supporter on May 30, 2023. Dave Conna of Stow, Massachusetts joined as a volunteer in the Forget-Me-Not Farm days in Tinmouth, and was instrumental in carrying the vision through the transitional years from 2015 to now.
For over two decades, Dave was a devoted and active volunteer for the SolarFest organization. Dave cheerfully took on many diverse roles, including directing parking, setting up tents and signage around the festival site, fundraising, soliciting sponsors, developing workshop presenters, stage emcee, and recruiting nationally recognized experts as keynote speakers.
Eight years ago, Dave stepped into a leadership role as an officer, where he helped guide the organization through many challenges, including COVID lockdown, to re-establish SolarFest as a strong, sustainable organization with an expanded mission into regenerative agriculture, community solar, and workforce training at its new home in Brandon, Vermont. In November Dave completed what turned out to be his last Climate Ride whose proceeds he donated to SolarFest, as he had for more than a decade.
On one of the hundreds of days he donated to making things on site work, last September Dave felt the symptoms of what turned out to be an incurable cancer. Still he was expected to have years left to live, but unbelievably, he is not with us today. We miss his energy, his wit, and his faith in solar and sustainability.
Bill Laberge, Trustee, President
When he was still making custom furniture, Bill and his wife, Lisa, installed a 9.5 kW system on his workshop in Dorset. Soon thereafter, they bought an electric vehicle and began Grassroots Solar. Attending SolarFest since its earliest days, Bill offers a wealth of knowledge of the intricacies of designing and installing a system. He is a NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professional and Vice Chair of the Bennington Community Market.
John Blittersdorf, Trustee, Vice President
Building an off-grid solar home in the 1980’s was the beginning of his solar odyssey. After working at NRG Systems, immersed in the wind power industry, John started Central Vermont Solar & Wind in 1996, the same year as the first SolarFest. Most recently, John formed CV Wind Service and continues to specialize in off grid and backup solar and wind installations and service of his more than 400 solar installations throughout Vermont and neighboring states. He has been involved with SolarFest since the early days at Daisy Hollow and brings a historical perspective to the board.
Mike Bailey, Trustee, Treasurer
Mike became involved with SolarFest in 2014, after all the heavy lifting was already done! He brings a marketers perspective to the festival, finding new ways to bring people together, to encourage adoption of sustainable energy, and to help sustainable energy reach its tipping point. For fun, he’s focused on development of the game-changing technologies and systems enabling zero-emission transportation and other broad-based, carbon free opportunities.
Kevin Bailey, Trustee
Kevin’s interest in solar energy began while still a student volunteering at SolarFest. Now he owns High Peaks Solar, where he is the Lead System Designer, and was an adjunct professor at HVCC responsible for training the next generation of certified solar installers. Kevin also founded The Sky Is Not Limited, a non-profit organization that provides drinking water infrastructure to impoverished nations. Begun in 2010, today the “well project” he built provides fresh, bacteria-free drinking water for an entire village in remote Tanzania, Africa.
Melissa Chesnut-Tangerman, Trustee
A freelance educator and musician, Melissa has filled many roles at SolarFest since 1995: volunteer, Volunteer Coordinator, fundraiser, promotional and grant writer, co-Executive Director, Board of Trustees President, Volunteers for Peace coordinator, director of Theater-in-the-Woods, actor, member of the SolarFest House Band, co-coordinator of Nan’s Kitchen, and more. She is happy and proud to be a part of this unique family/community that has touched so many lives.
Emily Eckert, Trustee
An animal advocate and environmentalist since childhood, Emily’s focus has been on holistic problem solving since the beginning. With degrees in Global Economies, Human Rights and the Environment, and a fascination for how energy and technology impact our communities, she has created an onsite farm, worked for Tesla, and even an electric utility. The clear need for supporting small businesses in their sustainability transition resulted in Emily founding GoViably, preparing for a future where every product and every business is socially and environmentally responsible.