Reflections on the Illinois Renewable Energy Fair

Andrew Nikiforuk, a Rachel Carson Award-winning journalist who has written about the oil and gas industry for 20 years, was keynote speaker at this year’s 12th Annual Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill. Sunday, Aug. 18, his topic was “The Energy of Slaves,” based on his most recent book of the same title. He pointed out that the proliferation of billions of energy slaves (machines) poses a variety of social, environmental and political challenges as the era of cheap oil ends. The lecture was attended by about 100 people. (Photo by Frank Schier)

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

When we organized the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and later the annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, little did we expect that the next year’s fair would be anticipated before the current one ended with potential speakers and exhibitors requesting information about participation and media representatives considering expanded publicity.

The 12th has come and gone. As for previous fairs, displays have been removed, tables, chairs and other equipment have been returned to their customary storage spots, and the grounds cleaned and vacated. No visible sign remains.

But for those who attended, it will remain in the memory. As usual, exhibits were informative and speakers excellent. Exhibits were grouped by category so that sponsors, college and government representatives could communicate with each other and visitors interested in renewable energy, personal care and lifestyles or political/environmental/social issues could readily find information, products and/or organizations.

Workshops were organized so someone interested in specific issues could attend a full weekend of information. Energy and technology, transportation, homes, gardening and foods were among the threads available.

Many interested in energy independence have purchased and installed systems. Homes are becoming better insulated, tighter and fitted with energy-efficient appliances. Those workshops focused on foods probably received the greatest interest based on audience size. Gardening, including in containers or raised beds, on the wall or windowsill were among the possibilities explored. Food independence through aquaponics and primitive living skills were offered. This thread was absent from the first fairs, but has developed over the past few years. From eating raw foods to butchering, visitors were helped to learn food growing, preservation and preparation, and novel techniques including vegetable fermentation and even simple cheese-making.

As in previous years, the keynote speaker was excellent. Andrew Nikiforuk’s dynamic, thought-provoking presentations focused on energy will be covered in a future column.

As with other similar events such as the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, the Iowa Expo and the Green Festival, attendance was not as robust as in the past. However, the interest and knowledge levels of visitors seems to have increased. Exhibitors and speakers alike were pleased with responses to their messages and with the “great fair.”

The fair was held a week later than previously to allow school student attendance. Two schools and three colleges participated. After PV panels were installed on one of their school buildings, Oregon middle and high school students studied a solar curriculum and designed and built solar houses. Auburn High School students shared their experiences with hydroponics in the classroom. They plan to partner with the Salvation Army, growing food that will be given away in exchange for work, and also plan a school garden. An added bonus of the later date was the perfect, mild weather this year.

Wonderful volunteers helped the event run smoothly.

The IREA has accomplished much since we met at a table Jeff Green set up at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in 1998 to explore the possibility of having a similar event for Illinois.

Major sponsors of the fair were The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio, Ogle County, Clean Line Energy Partners and the Kickapoo Conservancy.

From the Aug. 21-27, 2013, issue

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