Extreme weather, abandoned factories and renewable energy

June 25, 2014

The center of Greensburg, Kan., 12 days after being hit by a tornado in May 2007. Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson will speak during the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 23-24, at Ogle County Fairgrounds. (Image courtesy of FEMA Photo Library)

The center of Greensburg, Kan., 12 days after being hit by a tornado in May 2007. Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson will speak during the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 23-24, at Ogle County Fairgrounds. (Image courtesy of FEMA Photo Library)

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

As we live through another week of extreme weather events, it seems appropriate to address the topic.

Tornadoes, hail, snow and ice, severe cold, wind storms, heavy rains and floods often result in injury and death, property damage and disruption of everyday life, including electrical services.

In November 2012, a tornado hit Massac, Washington and Tazewell counties in central Illinois, killing six people and causing extensive damage, particularly in the town of Washington, just east of Peoria. It was one of two EF4 tornadoes to hit the state with wind speeds approaching 200 mph. The damage was extensive, uprooting trees, bringing down power lines, rupturing gas lines, and destroying or damaging nearly 1,000 homes.

According to a report by Climate Central, from the mid-1980s through 2012, there was a tenfold increase in major power outages affecting more than 50,000 homes or businesses. From 2003 through 2012, weather events caused 80 percent of the power outages, 39 of them in Illinois. Most of the outages resulted from damage to large transmission lines or substations, as opposed to smaller residential distribution networks.

With aging power plants, transformers and transmission lines, the loss of power is stimulating upgrades and innovations. Investments in smart meters, fault detection and software monitoring tools are projected to add resiliency to the grid and minimize service disruption from severe events.

Climate change is considered partially responsible for the increase in power outages. Other expected impacts in the Midwest include more frequent heat waves, spreading of diseases associated with warmer weather, and rising ozone levels in urban areas.

Precipitation will come in heavy downpours, increasing flood damage, straining drainage systems and wastewater treatment plants. There are likely to be extended drought periods between rainstorms.

More frequent heat waves, floods and droughts stress agriculture and existing natural areas. Increased insect populations also damage agriculture and forests. Warmer waters alter fish populations.

The industries of the Midwest have been devastated by outsourcing jobs to low-cost labor areas, leaving abandoned buildings and empty lots available for other uses. Some of the abandoned properties have become sites for food production and renewable energy installations. Others could follow. Tim Bratina and his students at Auburn High School in Rockford have been developing a demonstration aquaponics project for two years, modeled after projects in Chicago and Milwaukee.

In 2007, Greensburg, Kan., was leveled by a wind shear of 260 mph from an EF5 tornado. Ninety-five percent of the town was destroyed. While a terrible event in which nine people died, it created an opportunity to rebuild. It is an outstanding example of emphasizing renewable energy sources and green building, with 28 sustainable buildings, eight of which are LEED rated.

After coming together to rebuild their community, residents now share their experiences with others to inspire them to rebuild their own communities. Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson has agreed to share his ideas at this year’s Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 23 and 24, at Ogle County Fairgrounds near Oregon, Ill.

The major sponsor of the fair is the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

We are still accepting speakers and exhibitors: irea.org@gmail.com or sonia.vogl@gmail.com.

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 June 25-July 1, 2014, issue

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