Power from the people

When the fifth annual Southern Energy & Environment Expo kicks off this weekend, it will focus on both the bright prospect of regional self-reliance and on the proven synergy generated by past years’ events. “We have a huge number of resources right in front of us: wind, solar, biofuels,” organizer Ned Doyle told Xpress. “We have the skeleton of an infrastructure to go sustainable on a regional level.”

Proof of the expo’s effectiveness is as close as the new biodiesel pump at 405 Haywood Road in Asheville (see “Veggie Power,” Buzzworm, July 20 Xpress). Last year’s event featured a public forum on local biodiesel production, and links forged there between WNC’s fledgling Blue Ridge Biofuels Cooperative, the Piedmont Biofuels Cooperative and the N.C. State Energy Office led directly to the establishment of the region’s first public biofuel filling station.

“Working together for the bioregion puts us in the forefront of what’s happening nationwide,” Doyle explains. “States and regions are taking the lead in energy policy, since it has become obvious that the federal government has abandoned its responsibility in that area — there is no leadership at the national level.”

This year’s expo is supported by a wide array of local sponsors — both nonprofit advocacy groups and companies offering sustainable energy systems — all coming together to pitch their ideas and peddle their wares.

“It’s the largest event of its type east of the Mississippi, and unquestionably the largest of its kind in the nation that brings together both nonprofits and commercial alternative-energy providers,” notes Doyle with a grin. “Out of the 120 participants, it is almost exactly 50-50 — conservation organizations and renewable-energy businesses. Other energy fairs tend to focus on business.” Expo sponsors include the Canary Coalition, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Environment and Conservation Organization, N.C. Green Power, the North Carolina Solar Center, the State Energy Office and the WNC Green Building Council.

Workshop schedule

The biggest change this year is the addition of six intensive, half-day workshops to the usual lineup of hourlong presentations (for a complete listing of those, see “Southern Energy & Environment Expo 2005 Events”). The new workshops, said Doyle, were added in response to popular demand for hands-on training. Subject areas include biofuels production, cordwood construction, solar hot-water systems, photovoltaic systems, sustainable agriculture and wind power.

Each class will be limited to 18-25 participants to maximize opportunities for interaction with instructors. “They cost $40 — a real discount over what you would usually pay for workshops of this caliber,” noted Doyle. “Similar workshops can cost $300 for a weekend.”

The advance-registration deadline is past, but space is still available in some classes. (For late registration, e-mail info@seeexpo.com or visit the information booth in the main arena.) Participants should arrive at classes a half-hour before the scheduled start time.

Friday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Executive Director Tony Kleese of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, a certified organic farmer, will share the work that CFSA and others are doing to develop sustainable agriculture in the Southeast. Discussion will cover all aspects of sustainable agriculture.

Saturday, 8 a.m. – noon

John Rees and others from the N.C. Solar Center will discuss using the sun’s heat to make hot water, either directly or via a heat-transfer fluid. Participants will learn basic solar-thermal principles, components needed for practical systems, and what’s available in the market.

Saturday, 1 – 5 p.m.

Appalachian State University’s Small Wind Initiative will offer a comprehensive workshop on small-scale wind-system applications. Wind power — a proven technology now comparable to fossil-fuel-fired sources in cost but without emissions or the kinds of environmental impacts connected with drilling or mining — is the world’s most rapidly expanding source of clean, sustainable energy.

Sunday, 8 a.m. – noon

Experts from the N.C. Solar Center will present a workshop on photovoltaics and the power of the sun. Participants will learn how solar energy is converted into electricity, what types of systems are commercially available, and what are the essential components of a successful system.

Sunday, 10:15 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Rob and Jaki Roy of Earthwood Building School will conduct a workshop on cordwood construction, including both classroom work and a hands-on demonstration of mortar mixing, laying the log-ends, insulation and pointing a wall. Students will get a chance to build with guidance from the instructors.

Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m.

Rachel Burton and Leif Forer will draw on their experiences in developing Piedmont Biofuels into this state’s most successful biofuels project.

The future in plain sight

Last year’s Xpress coverage of this annual event began by stating, “Crude-oil prices hit $48 per barrel recently, and experts say $50 is on the near horizon.” With those prices already up to $65 per barrel and many experts now predicting that they may rise to $120 before the end of the decade and stay there, regional self-reliance has assumed a new urgency. Particularly in light of national energy policy.

Echoing many other critics, Doyle told Xpress: “In my opinion, the energy bill that was just passed by the federal government meets the legal definition of treason. It is providing direct financial support to the terrorists and makes no provision for cutting back on use of imported fuels.”

On the other hand, he noted, “S.E.E. Expo is a reflection of a grassroots realization that we have to solve this problem ourselves and use sustainable economic planning. An oil-based economy is not sustainable.”

As the expo slogan urges, “S.E.E. the future” this weekend at the WNC Agricultural Center. It is both later and brighter than you think.

S.E.E.ing your way clear

Where: WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher

When: Friday, Aug. 26, 12:30 – 6 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 27, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 28, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Cost: Daily admission is $7/adults, $3/ages 13-21 and free for children 12 and under. Drivers of hybrid-electric and alternative-fuel vehicles (including bicycles) will be admitted free; those arriving by bus will get a $3 discount. (Tip: Cyclists can use the Asheville Transit System, which will leave from the downtown Transit Center on the hour, Saturday and Sunday.) There’s also a $50 VIP Weekend Pass, which includes admission, a 2005 S.E.E. Expo T-shirt, a tent/van campsite for up to four nights, and a pass to the Friday-evening VIP/Exhibitors Networking Dinner, which will feature a keynote address by Director Larry Shirley of the N.C. State Energy Office. By all accounts, the speech promises to be a barnburner.

For more info, visit www.seeexpo.com or phone (828) 696-3877.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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