S.E.E. the future of WNC

Western North Carolina is already widely known for its biodiversity, rich history and stunning natural beauty. We now have an exceptional opportunity to become a national showcase for renewable energy, environmental protection and sustainable economics.

We have wind energy to generate clean electricity for the grid. We have sunshine to fuel solar energy systems for heating and residential electricity. We have the climate and environment that, managed responsibly, could provide a steady supply of biomass for food, local building materials and economic stability through tourism. Most important, we have people with the talent and dedication to lead the way toward regional sustainability, both environmentally and economically.

The fourth annual Southern Energy & Environment Expo, coming to the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center the last weekend in August, will shine the spotlight on the resources we have to help us achieve these goals. More than just a play on letters, our motto — “S.E.E. the Future” — sends the message that we can do better for our children and for future generations by working together for a sustainable future. Our theme, “Sustainable Living for a Strong America,” promotes the benefits of a sound energy policy, environmental protection and a sustainable economic future for our region and our nation.

More than 100 businesses, organizations and individuals will be exhibiting affordable, practical products and strategies for long-term sustainability. The S.E.E. Expo will feature dozens of one-hour educational presentations (all included in the $6 daily admission) on solar, wind, micro-hydro, energy efficiency, alternative fuels, “green” building techniques, fuel cells, environmental issues and much more.

Sustainable-energy businesses such as Advanced Thermal Solutions, Appalachian Wind Systems, Big Frog Mountain Corporation, Golden Sun Energy, Solar Connexion, Solar Guys, Sundance Power Systems and Thermacraft will provide presentations and information about independent systems ranging from wind power to photovoltaics, micro-hydro and solar hot-water systems.

A host of organizations including Appalachian Science in the Public Interest, the Western North Carolina Alliance, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the Canary Coalition, the Dogwood Alliance, the Environmental and Conservation Organization of Henderson County, Pure Food Partners and Wildlaw will present current information on local air quality, genetically modified foods, clear-cutting, loss of biodiversity and other challenges to our regional environment. More important, they’ll offer practical solutions that take into account the economics of our region, based on an awareness that the nation’s current energy policies lie at the root of many issues.

WNC’s deteriorating air quality is damaging individual, environmental and economic health, and cars and trucks are the major source of the region’s air pollution. So exchanging a conventional vehicle for a hybrid electric car, low-emission vehicle, electric vehicle or one that runs on biofuels (such as vegetable oils and ethanol) is one way individual area residents can make a real difference. The Clean Air Car Fair will feature five dozen state-of-the-art vehicles from local dealers and creative individuals. In addition, folks who already drive a hybrid electric or alternative-fuel vehicle will be admitted to the S.E.E. Expo free of charge.

And if you own a diesel-powered vehicle, you can now switch to biofuels. The North Carolina Solar Center’s Alternative Fuels Garage and Piedmont Biofuels Co-op will offer presentations on these well-established fuels. When Rudolf Diesel introduced his engine a century ago at the Paris World’s Fair, for example, it ran on peanut oil. Instead of the increasing financial drain posed by reliance on imported oil, we can invigorate our regional agricultural economy by producing biomass for fuels.

Even if you ride a bicycle and don’t contribute to air pollution, virtually everyone lives in a house or apartment. The energy waste and environmental damage created by conventional construction techniques and materials is extraordinary. Energy efficiency in housing will be critical for our long-term sustainability. Accordingly, The Western North Carolina Green Building Council and many of its affiliated members — such as Alice Dodson Architects, Appropriate Building Solutions, E-Z Block Inc., Home Energy Partners and Stone Mountain Builders — will showcase energy-efficient, sustainable building techniques.

Home Energy Partners offers the latest technology to help make any home, new or existing, as efficient as possible. And alternative construction products such as E-Z Block support quick, energy-efficient building projects. There’ll also be demonstrations and workshops on cordwood and rammed-earth construction.

Simply by using the talents, natural resources and opportunities we already have, our region can lead the way to a sustainable future. We don’t need more new coal-fired power plants or nuclear plants, as the current federal energy plan proposes. We need regional investment in wind, solar and biomass technologies that harness the free, nonpolluting energies of nature while creating well-paying jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors. We don’t need to destroy our natural environment for the short-term profit of a few — we need to preserve our environment for its beauty, its renewable resources and its economic value to future generations.

And we don’t need to be at the mercy of global corporations that control our food and energy supplies. Instead, we need to realize that building a new infrastructure — one that rewards American workers and small businesses, relies on our own natural energy resources, encourages local agriculture, and shows respect for our planet and the rest of the world’s population — is not only sound economic planning but true patriotism that will promote regional and national security.

[Ned Ryan Doyle is producer/host of Our Southern Community, a weekly public-affairs program on WNCW, 88.7 FM. He serves on the board of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and is coordinator of the fourth annual Southern Energy & Environment Expo.]

Two weeks and counting…

This year’s Southern Energy & Environment Expo takes place the last weekend in August at the WNC Agricultural Center (across from the Asheville Airport).

The hours are:
Friday Aug. 27, noon to 6 p.m.
Saturday Aug. 28, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday Aug. 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Daily admission is $6/adults, $3/ages 13-21, free for those 12 and under. (There’s no admission charge if you drive an alternative-fuel or hybrid-electric vehicle to the grounds.)

Watch for detailed coverage of the expo in the Aug. 25 Xpress, or check www.seeexpo.com.

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