Honoring renewable energy accomplishments in and around the Rockford area

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

Nov. 8, the first Winnebago County Renewable Energy Expo was held at the Klehm Arboretum. The Expo was designed to celebrate what has been done and is being done with renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Rockford area.

Thirty local businesses, industries and organizations had exhibits. Three major speakers presented their views about the future of renewable energy.

Thirty-six area organizations and individuals were recognized for their leadership by example in renewable energy and efficiency. Winnebago County, Freedom Field, the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and Rock Valley College presented the event.

Many people contribute to achieving such a goal, but some ignite a spark of interest in an idea and stimulate others to join the effort. We feel Frank Schier’s contributions in stimulating interest in renewable energy in the area should be acknowledged.

When we retired from university teaching, we joined with others to create the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and provide workshops and an annual Energy Fair (later re-named the Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair) to stress the importance of renewable energy and efficiency.

When planning our first fair, we called Schier and asked for his support, as he had already published articles about the business opportunities and environmental benefits inherent in renewable energy. His support was instant, and we soon found ourselves writing a weekly column about the topic.

He set up meetings with Larry Morrissey before he was mayor to share some energy ideas with him. He also set up similar meetings with administrators from the Park District, Burpee Museum, the Discovery Center and the Nicholas Conservatory.

He prompted us to develop articles on what should be done and what has been done in terms of renewable energy in the area. Numerous solar and wind installations on homes, schools, churches and businesses can be traced to those efforts.

Later, he asked us and others to join an effort to provide awards to Winnebago County businesses and organizations that implemented ideas and practices consistent with green living.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) became interested in the economic potentials of green energy, and the idea of creating a renewable energy demonstration site took off.

Rather than tear down a no-longer -needed building, the Rockford Sanitary District donated its use to the project, which became Freedom Field. It serves as a demonstration site for business and educational interests. With solar electricity and heating and cooling, two wind towers and a mini grid, it is now a showpiece that also serves as an educational resource for local college students wanting practical experience and an opportunity to do research in the area.

When the executive board of Freedom Field discussed the idea of a renewable energy expo in Rockford emphasizing business and industry, Christiansen supported it, and the first Expo was born.

Much of what has been accomplished is the result of Frank Schier’s encouragement 12 years ago. We are impressed with the success of these efforts.

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 Nov. 13-19, 2013, issue

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