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Solar tour, update on regional renewable energy efforts

October 17, 2012

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

Several visitors to this year’s Tour of Solar Places Oct. 6 were impressed by the variety of installations in the area and asked why we had so much going on here. The quick answer is visits to our home, the solar tour, weekend workshops and the energy fair have been very effective in stimulating interest.

With the assistance of Dave Merrill, we installed a 1.6 kw system on the roof of our corn crib as a model of what was possible to do. We encouraged Merrill to open an installation business since there were no local installers.

The encouragement and support given by Frank Schier, owner of The Rock River Times, is a key driving force behind local interest in renewable energy.

Rick McCanse, a local contractor, discussed with us what he needed to do to become a green builder and continues to make important contributions. Kent and Kathy Lawrence asked us to consult with them on building their green home, which McCanse built. They also asked us to become partners in the Patchwork Inn and incorporate sustainable concepts into the operation. Early contacts with Webbs Norman at the Rockford Park District and the future Mayor Larry Morrissey got things moving in Rockford. We contributed to initial efforts to establish what eventually became the Freedom Field project in Rockford, which Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) has championed.

Once again, this year’s tour was a success. A few visitors had been on the tour before, and some people have taken up to 10 years before they actually decide to install a system. Some were waiting for prices to fall; others waited to see if the systems were durable. The Byron Forest Preserve was one of the first institutions in Ogle County to construct an energy-efficient building and install solar and wind technologies. Cooperative policies of Commonwealth Edison have been helpful. Support from the Clean Energy Foundation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center have contributed to statewide developments.

The solar tours offer us an opportunity to learn what visitors hope to do. An ex-Marine asked for assistance in getting started installing renewable energy systems in his home country of Guatemala. An electronics engineer whose wife is from the Philippines intends to move there upon retirement and start a small organic farm and fish-raising operation to fulfill their sustainability interests and supplement their retirement income.

Many sites added new elements. The prairie at the Kickapoo Center is well established, featuring attractive fall colors. Dijstelbergen is modifying and assembling a wind generator to supplement his solar panels.

The Merrill installations included a wind generator and roof and ground-mounted pv systems and an equipment display. The Zaderej solar home added a 4.3 kW grid-tied PV system to go along with their wind generator. The home is described in the October/November 2012 issue of Home Power. The Vogls added alpacas to go along with chickens, ducks, prairies, woodlands, solar, wind, wood furnace, hoop house and greenhouse installations as sustainable practices.

It was a good tour made possible by those willing to open their homes. We look forward to hearing from those who take action to join the solar revolution.

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 Oct. 17-23, 2012, issue

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