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“Green” Show Features Alternative Energy Ideas

Don Giecek spoke to booth visitors about the Poor Mountain wind turbine project.

The Floyd-based Association of Energy Conservation Professionals (AECP) held its annual Green Living & Energy Expo at the Roanoke Civic Center’s special events hall last week, an opportunity for businesses and green organizations to show off efforts to make this a more energy efficient, less wasteful world.

On hand in the Invenergy booth was project manager Don Giecek, who is working with Roanoke County to push through a wind turbine project that could place 15-18 400’ tall power generating windmills on Poor Mountain – if approved by the Board of Supervisors.  Those turbines, opposed by some area residents on environmental and aesthetic grounds, could generate enough electricity to power 8500-10,000 households, according to Invenergy.

Giecek said the Federal Aviation Administration should soon deliver a “hazard determination,” after deciding whether those structures might pose a safety issue with aircraft headed to or from Roanoke Regional Airport. The county must also vote to issue an ordinance allowing the project to move forward.

Invenergy has built 20 wind farms to date;  Giecek said “every [project] has its own challenges . . .  and its own strengths. When it comes to community outreach and aviation concerns, and environmental [issues], projects tend to be quite similar.”

Giecek called the AECP trade show “very valuable,” for Invenergy, since it allowed him to sit down with booth visitors “and tell them about the [windmill] project on a one-on-one basis, and listen to their concerns. This is a great opportunity to do outreach.” Giecek said he heard “far more support” for the Poor Mountain project than comments from those opposed to it.

Younger people seemed especially interested in how the wind industry and other renewable energy sources might provide job opportunities, he added. “It’s really uplifting to hear from them because they’re very positive.”  Giecek said he thinks the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors may provide the final word on the Poor Mountain project by next spring.

AECP executive director Billy Weitzenfeld said he saw more renewable energy booths at this year’s 11th annual show, plus an emphasis on energy auditing that could detect problem areas in a home or commercial building. A green job fair was also held for the first time. “There’s been a lot of interest. A lot of people … are looking at a career change.”

Weitzenfeld said viewing the green industry as a major job-producing engine is still a ways off. “It’s not here yet. Some real progress has been made.”  Tax credits helped for a while but Weitzenfeld said more are needed, especially at the local level. He pointed to Roanoke City’s property tax break for those that make their homes more energy efficient. “I don’t know how many people are taking advantage of that.”

Weitzenfeld said the Green Living & Energy Expo show was about more than just allowing local businesses to show off their wares. “We wanted to get people excited [about alternative energy] and take some action.”

Perhaps the next generation of green industry leaders can be found at places like Thaxton Elementary, where some students are part of the N.E.E.D. team. (National Energy Education Development Project.)  Retired teacher Viola Henry, honored with an award for her work with the group during the expo, said the national program is all about “kids teaching kids about energy conservation.” The children even use solar ovens to prepare snacks that are then eaten by students which drives home a point about energy alternatives she noted. “We also play games where they have to make conservation choices.”

Students in the upper grades learn about conservation, than go into the lower grade  classrooms to spread the word. The N.E.E.D. team had a booth at the show. Thaxton Elementary has won awards for the program 20 years running. Several other local school groups toured the expo as well.

Henry said some Thaxton N.E.E.D students have gone on to study environmental science in college. In middle and high school, “these are the kids who win the science [and] math fairs. The program really works.”

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