Roots of Renewable Energy

The Counterculture Roots of Renewable Energy in Vermont

A panel discussion alive with windy storytellers.

Don Mayer, David Sellers, and Jito Coleman recently gathered to share stories about the beginnings of North Wind Power in Warren, Vermont, in the early 1970s. 

The renewable energy movement in the United States was born of the social and political ferment of the late 1960s, and Vermont played a leadership role from the very beginning. Mayer, Sellers, and Coleman will reflect on their roles in the emergence of this movement and share their perspectives on the energy challenges facing us today.

Don Mayer was an anti-war activist who opposed the draft and participated in the creation of People’s Park in San Francisco. Arriving at Goddard College in the early 1970s Mayer enrolled in a course taught by Warren architect, David Sellers, for which he built a methane generator.  At this time Sellers was developing his innovative design-build approach to architecture on Prickly Mountain in Warren.

Motivated initially by a personal commitment to self-sufficiency, Mayer teamed up with Sellers to salvage and recondition historic wind turbines from farms in the Great Plains. This enterprise eventually evolved into the wind turbine manufacturer, North Wind Power, which engineer Jito Coleman joined to oversee research and development. Coleman had previously lived and worked on a Wisconsin commune inspired by the ideas of R. Buckminster Fuller.

Today, Vermont wind turbine manufacturer Northern Power carries on the legacy of North Wind Power.  Don Mayer is the CEO of Small Dog Electronics; David Sellers is the principal of Sellers and Company Architects; and Jito Coleman works as a renewable energy engineer on projects worldwide.

This was the first of five programs organized in conjunction with the Vermont Folklife Center exhibit, “Portraits in Action: Pioneers in Renewable Energy, Environmental Conservation, and Land Use Planning,” on display through August 6.