I spoke to EJay Bishop at the Union Arena Community Center in Woodstock, VT this afternoon. In fact, I was pretty lucky to get through to him. Virginia Dean wrote an article in the Vermont Standard about how the arena’s non-profit board wants to make it the first net-zero arena in North America. That article that was published on December 19th and it caused a ripple effect. It was read by Associated Press reporter Wilson Ring, a local who was intrigued by the story. He came down to the arena and interviewed Bishop and arena board president, Harold Mayhew. Ring’s story was published in the Globe & Mail on Christmas day. The next day, Radio Canada, the French Canadian television network, ran the story and this morning, Vermont Public Radio had a clip on their morning news. Those are just some of the media outlets hungry for details on an ice arena brash enough to set a net-zero objective. As a consequence, Union Arena’s phone has been ringing of the hook with interview requests.

And that included me.


The story about the Woodstock Union Arena Net-Zero Campaign is about a 13-year-old community arena that was in deep financial trouble just three years ago. That’s when the current president of the non-profit board (an architect by day who, luckily enough, has arenas in his portfolio) began nursing it back to health. At first, all the fundraising that Hal Mayhew, his board, and their army of volunteers did was to pay the bills to keep the wolves from the door.

But long term, anyone could see that there had to be a better way.

Mayhew and his team, which includes arena manager EJay Bishop, saw the realities of rising costs. They asked the toughest question of all: how could they sustain the arena in the future?

Reducing Energy Costs

The only way would be by reducing their energy costs — which make up a third of the arena’s annual expenses. They figured that by reducing their energy spend to net-zero, they could keep their arena sustainable. They enlisted the help of Accent Refrigeration and went to work on a plan which was publicly unveiled at the Woodstock Rotary Club meeting in November. You can watch a video of that presentation in its entirety here.

Reducing energy costs will have a positive impact on three main areas:

  • The environment
  • The arena’s operation budget
  • The programs they offer, making them more affordable and, therefore more accessible, for everyone in their community.

Rising Costs and Sustainability

Union Arena has an annual budget of around $500,000. Energy costs account for a third of that budget — about $140,000. With their 4-tiered plan, specific targets for energy cost reductions are specified. Here’s the breakdown:

Tier Description Savings
1 Refrigeration plant overhaul $20,000
2 HVAC upgrade $20,000
3 Solar farm $50,000
4 Complete System Integration $50,000

What’s It Going to Cost? $1.4 Million!

In order to implement the four tiers, it will cost money — a sizeable $1.4 million dollars. The fundraising began earlier this year, even before the project was publicly launched. As of November 10th, $1 million was left to raise.

To get to a net-zero cost of electricity and fuel, the arena’s energy consumption will need to be reduced by a factor of 3 to be able to be low enough to be supported by solar.

“It’s never been done before,” Mayhew admits. “We’ve got the best engineers in the business to work on figuring this out for us. If we get just 80% of the way there (to net-zero), already it’s a heck of a difference.”

The really good news is that only three months into the project, they’re seeing savings.

Energy Costs: Already 12% Less than Last Year

To even think about getting to net-zero, they needed to make sure that what they had was in order, and it wasn’t. The first tier, according to Bishop, was “nothing more than rebuilding our existing refrigeration plant, with some minor adjustments.”

“We overhauled our two compressors and brought them up to snuff,” says Bishop. That was the biggest item. But they also installed a condensing cooling tower, added a variable speed drive for brine pump control, added a big filter on their brine loop to replace the sock they had in place, and put sensors on the equipment to have a better understanding of what was happening, when.

A comparison of the energy consumed this year over last is putting them already at a 12% savings. And that number is something Bishop expects will go even higher. When they turned on the equipment, it was the day before the meter was read. That resulting power spike was used as the basis for the previous month’s bill.


Vermont has a state-wide goal of being 90% renewable by 2050. So projects like the Sustainable Union Arena Campaign will help the State achieve that goal. Sally Miller, Director of Sustainable Woodstock, a community action group supporting the project, says “it’s an important step in getting there.”

To learn more about the project, you can download a .pdf of the presentation here.

If you’d like to make a donation, please click here.


80 Amsden Way
Woodstock, VT
(802) 457-2500