Renewables saved the day at MREA energy fair

Renewables saved the day at MREA energy fair


By Dan Slattery

Alternative Energy Activist

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s 13th Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair in Custer, Wis. was a resounding success this year. Most importantly, alternative energy came up when the regular power failed. My wife, JoAnne, and I attended all three days of the event. Much to my surprise, she was not bored to tears, despite all the talk about wind siting analysis, hydrogen fuel cells (the Holy Grail for automotive), on grid vs. off grid, amorphous silicon modules and crystalline modules—similarities and differences, and so on. She actually found it “interesting.” Or so she said. Actually, it seemed a great time was had by all, with the possible exception of some campers—rain deluged the area Friday and part of Saturday.

Because of the weather, some interesting twists occurred. Friday night and Saturday morning, horrendous lightning and thunderstorms knocked out the power grid feeding the eastern portion of Stevens Point, Custer, Wis., the grid-tie to the MREA, and the feed to most all of the exhibitor and vendor booths, well water pumping stations and campsites. How ironic!

But—yes—the RE system at the institute was still up, feeding the institute and a number of food booths close to it. Power was also being generated from various types of equipment brought by the vendors throughout the fairgrounds. Display solar panels and windmills were connected. It was neighbor helping neighbor.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, a large crowd was gathering at one of the biggest tents for an awards ceremony honoring individuals and organizations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty in promoting renewable energy. This was followed by one of the keynote speakers, Will Steger, a specialist in living off the grid and a polar explorer, who has studied effects of global climate change on polar regions. Yes, the Greenhouse effect is real. In the last decade or so, polar ice that was eight feet thick is now down to six feet.

No one knew if he could present his slide show and talk because of the storm. Suddenly, the P.A. system came blaring on, and the announcement was made that one of the vendors at the fair had come to the rescue by supplying electricity with a display model of a PEM (proton exchange membrane) FUEL CELL generator! Way cool.

The way-cool factor largely increased when that PEM also powered P.A. and lights for the main Saturday night attraction, folk-singer/songwriter Patty Larkin. She was fantastic, a sharp wit, a superb songwriter and an amazing performer on her acoustic/electric Stratocaster.

That fuel cell generator saved the day, but I don’t know too many people who have $50,000 to throw around. Fascinating! This situation was now a double irony.

Besides our Editor & Publisher Frank Schier, I also met some other people I knew through mail and phone correspondence: Katy Matthai, MREA associate director; Jill DeVita, MREA membership; and Mick Sagrillo, MREA president.

I also saw Ted Lowe, treasurer of the Illinois Solar Energy Society, and some folks from the Illinois Renewable Energy Association. Both organizations had booths there.

Our accommodations at the Baymont Inn in Stevens Point were great. I’ve stayed there numerous times now, and Betty and her staff never fail to come through. However, I did feel bad for the campers (or should I say swimmers?)…

The rain and storms were so intense and drawn out that we thought we would never see the sun again. Note—despite cloudy, rainy, darkened skies, many solar panels were still producing electricity, albeit in limited amounts.

Saturday morning, with most of eastern Stevens Point and much of Portage County without power from the storms, it struck me that this had now become a triple irony.

Stevens Point had the MREA with all its renewable energy RIGHT IN THEIR BACKYARD! Literally! We should all be like them.

However, gas stations and grocery stores without power were running off fossil fuel generators. How quaint.

With approximately 175 booths and tents for vendors and exhibitors, we managed to hit up just about every one for product literature. I don’t know about Frank, but I’m looking at a stack about 4″ high, not including books, CDs, posters or bumper stickers, all on alternative energy and related issues. I attended numerous workshops, which I will write about in coming issues.

There were (in my estimate) thousands of people there every day, from all over the world, no less. WHO SAYS NO ONE CARES ABOUT ALTERNATIVE ENERGY? Rockford just needs to wake up, smell the coffee, and get with the program.

I was also very impressed with the high degree of social consciousness of so many different people so geographically diversified, yet all grooving on the same wavelength.

Over three days, the crowd of 15,000 showed excellent behavior in the face of weather adversities, short power outages and over-population at times. And why not? We were all there for the same purpose: to learn, and learn we did.

Dan Slattery is a member of the following organizations: the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, the American Solar Energy Society, the Illinois Solar Energy Association, and the Illinois Coalition Against Unfair Utilities. Although he is a member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), he does not represent the MREA in any official capacity whatsoever. His viewpoints are his own. Editor & Publisher Frank Schier contributed to this article and was a “camper”—Dan, we “campers” were just fine. The weather could dampen our campgrounds, tents, vans and travel trailers, but not our sense of fun and community. Nobody left! What a gregarious, talented and tough group of people. Many of them said they will be at the IREA Energy Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds on Aug. 10 & 11.

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