Illinois renewable energy solutions

Imagine our surprise when we opened an envelope containing two copies of the most recent issue of Illinois AgriNews and saw a photo of ourselves and our solar electric panels! Since a reporter had interviewed us, we expected a timely article. But we never expected to get front-page coverage. The solutions offered at the Energy Fair should get worldwide front-page coverage.

Renewable energy is of keen interest in rural areas and small towns as a means to rebuild local economies and reduce dependence on imported energy. This issue of AgriNews is filled with energy articles addressing organic farming, corn ethanol, soy-based foods in aquaculture and wind farm developments.

We also had a recent interview with the RFD Radio Network regarding the Fair, so anticipated more visitors from small towns and rural areas.

While support for renewable energy is strong, siting facilities remains problematic as not everyone looks upon them with favor, especially those expected to be neighbors. Government energy policies stress new supplies over energy efficiency, which increases the likelihood of conflicts. A more energy-efficient society with better planning and land use policies would lessen the frequency of such conflicts. Unfortunately, they can deteriorate into name calling, which obscures the underlying issues.

In a radio interview last week, the label “tree hugger” was used to denigrate environmental concerns about energy policies. A more enlightened view regarding trees would value their role in maintaining a healthy environment and vibrant economy. A National Geographic photo of a treeless, devastated landscape in Haiti provides a glimpse of life without trees. With 15 million trees lost to emerald ash borer infestations between 2002 and 2005, parts of the Michigan landscape have been devastated.

The Ogle County Fair, a week before the Energy Fair, presented an opportunity to talk with officials, vendors and visitors. Biomass, corn and wood pellet furnaces and stoves attracted substantial interest. Local dealers report selling up to 100 units a year. Some dealers are out of stock.

After reading a fuel price comparison chart, one fairgoer estimated he could afford to pay up to $10/bushel for corn before matching the price paid for an equivalent amount of fossil fuel last year. With local corn around $2/bushel, it is easy to see why people are heating their homes with it. Of course, equipment and installation costs must also be considered.

One local dealer carries four brands of corn and wood pellet heating units. She expressed the need for a plant in northern Illinois to convert sawdust, bark, paper, cardboard and wood wastes into pellets.

The Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair provided participants with solutions to high energy costs and concerns about supply disruptions. Using less energy and using it more efficiently in our homes, businesses and transportation are basic to a secure energy future. The combination of speakers, workshops and displays provided

participants with a sense of the evolving changes in our global energy system as well as ideas about how to live our lives in a more sustainable manner.

Events such as the Fair require large expenditures of time, money and

effort. We are grateful for the contributions of our speakers, vendors and volunteers as they are the heart of the event. Grants from ComEd, An Exelon Company, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the

Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development and others are extremely helpful. For a complete list of our sponsors, see the full-page ad in this issue of The Rock River Times.

Finally, we are indebted to the owner of The Rock River Times, Frank Schier, who provides the essential foresight, determination and support for raising public awareness regarding the role renewable energy can play in revitalizing our economy.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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