3rd Annual Illinois Renewable Energy Fair highlights

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-dadY6b5fQU.jpg’, ‘Photos by Sonia Vogl’, ‘Exhibitors and fair personnel examine the PV and wind system owned by Kent and Kathy Lawrence, owners of the “green” home toured at the fair, Aug. 6. ‘);
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It is always satisfying to be able to report on another successful energy fair. According to a veteran participant of many major energy fairs throughout the country, the caliber of workshop presenters for the Illinois fair is equal to that of any he had ever attended. He felt that we need to impress our supporters with that understanding. Many comments were made about the excellent organization of the fair—“a well oiled machine”—especially considering that this was only its third year.

Keynoters and featured speakers stressed topics of major concern. Charles Komanoff advised we must get the price of energy right to develop a sustainable energy system. Environmental groups must once again advocate higher taxes on gasoline with a provision to direct the tax returns toward efficiency and renewable energy. Manuel Solis reported on renewable energy and ecological restoration efforts in Peru and his interest in cooperating with our organization. Bill Parton outlined the potential to expand ethanol production. Mark Burger provided an overview of global developments in solar electricity and the need for expanded support in Illinois. Hans Detweiler pointed out state programs to help keep energy dollars local. Brandon Leavitt highlighted 25 years of progress in installing solar hot water systems while Birgit Wolff emphasized her 23-year struggle to lessen air pollution from vehicle emissions. Palmer Carlin and Trudy Forsyth emphasized the economic opportunities for community-owned wind generators. Special acknowledgment is due Julia Steege, a high school student who gave her first public presentation on solar energy.

A range of activities for children led by John Root, Tim Benedict and Christopher Bernd was available. Local musical groups Cuan Eirinn and the Prairie Wolf Trio filled the air with quality music.

A new feature was a series of early evening field trips. A top favorite was the beautiful new environmentally friendly “green home” of Kent and Kathy Lawrence. Situated on nearly 60 acres of dedicated nature preserve of oak hickory forest, the home features nontoxic construction materials, a sunspace for supplemental heat and a solar electric system linked with a 10kW wind generator. The owners, the builder, the architect and the installer of the renewable energy system were all on hand to lead tours of the home.

A second field trip visited the earth-sheltered home being built by Marty and Ruthanne Davis. Once built, earth-sheltered homes require very little energy to heat and cool. A poured concrete shell is covered with earth on the roof and three sides. Earth acts as a buffer to temperature swings and winds, dramatically reducing energy needs. A south-facing wall of glass with an appropriate overhand allows for supplemental winter heat from the sun.

A trip to the Mendota Hills Wind Farm led by project director Brian Lammers was another trip of high interest that was well received by participants.

The wide range of booths and informed discussions occurring around the edges added up to a stimulating event. With extensive media coverage, it was a very successful weekend. It is one that far more citizens should be attending to help get them through this difficult and costly energy situation.

Since this is an election year during a period of high energy prices and increased energy dependence, it would seem appropriate for citizens to be asking political leaders at all levels of government what they intend to do to cut our fossil fuel dependence and inefficient use of energy. While a personal energy independence plan is necessary and money saving, similar actions must occur at the local, county, regional and state levels as well. If Austin, Boston, Chicago and Phoenix can do it, so can other communities. If California can pursue policies encouraging solar installations on new construction, so can Illinois. When we as individuals and communities make commitments to efficiency and renewables, more of our energy dollars will stay local, and we will end our desperate vulnerability to energy imports.

The energy fair relies on the efforts of all involved and especially those of our volunteers who give so generously of their time and personal energy. Hope to see you all at next year’s energy fair.

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