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Renewable Energy: Nature-loving couple takes the next step in sustainability

May 11, 2011

Bob Piros' PV system on a farm building. (Photy by Sonia Vogl)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

This winter, Bob and Sherry Piros of rural Chana had a 5.5 kW photovoltaic system installed on one of their barns. Dave Merrill, who had installed many systems in the area, did the work for them. “He was very efficient—he and his two helpers had the whole thing, with the inverter, up in one day,” Bob said. “We heard good things about Dave.”

We’re not green eco-fanatics,” said Sherry, a former English teacher.

The couple, who drive a Prius, thought about this commitment. They participated in the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair in Oregon, Ill., and talked about green construction and energy for some time before making their decision. Based on the current energy situation and considering that prices can only rise, they felt this was the time for their PV.

It’s nice to use clean energy,” claimed Sherry.

Since the price of PV has dropped and both state and federal governments offer incentives, they felt the price was reasonable. They don’t plan to live off grid and are looking forward to their new electronic meter.

The Piroses, who took part in our bat count a few years ago, also thought of installing a wind turbine. But they were concerned about bird and bat mortality, even though our one-year research turned up no damage to either group.

This is not their first venture into green living. They burn wood in their living room stove. They also have nearly 30 acres of natural ecosystems on their property.

In 1997, an 8-acre wetland on their property was dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve. Earlier, Sherry noticed Michigan lily growing there. She shared her find with fellow teacher Jay Friberg, who was studying Ogle County flora for his master’s degree at Northern Illinois University (NIU).

He visited, agreed with her observation, and inventoried the site—it was amazingly rich with Indian plantain, phlox, marsh marigold, both bottle and fringed gentians, and sedges. A solid tree line marked the perimeter of the marshy land. It was never tilled, and probably never pastured.

The land was unusual in that it had flowing water during the winter and small ponds on high spots. They believed it was a sedge meadow, an extremely rare ecosystem.

The Natural Land Institute created a conservation easement that permanently protected the area from future development. The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission visited and deemed it worthy of Nature Preserve status.

For the past 15 years, Bob has been turning about 20 acres into prairie and oak savanna. Bur, white, red, pin, swamp white and chinquapin oak grow in their preferred soils. Bob credits his having been a biology teacher, his master’s degree from NIU’s Taft program, Doug and Dot Wade and being a charter member of the Prairie Preservation Society of Ogle County with his interest in restoring prairies.

The couple also boast a northern woodland garden with an annual spring burst of glory—bloodroot, trillium, spring beauty, doll’s eyes, wild leek and pagoda dogwood. They also have separate stands of tamarack and spruce.

Of course, fruits and vegetables abound in their edible gardens.

After years of building the ecology of their property, they have now taken the next step into sustainable living.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the May 11-17, 2011 issue

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