MREA: Coloring the Midwest Green for 20 Years

Though I’ve already applied some of it, I’m still digesting the feast of info from 20th Energy Fair of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) June 19-21 near Custer, Wisconsin. It’s a great gathering of people who are learning how to live more lightly, and it just feels good to be in the middle of that crowd.

We walked through the gate behind someone wearing solar collectors on his backpack. Garbage and recycling were collected with a pedal-powered vehicle that wound through the crowds without fumes, noise or hazard to unwary walkers. There was a short but steady line all day long as people refilled the water bottles they brought with them at a tap rather than help build Used Water Bottle Mountain.

Roald Gundersen and his team demonstrate whole tree architecture.

Whole-tree architect, Roald Gundersen, demonstrates his building process.

This year MREA offered 200 workshops and had 270 exhibits, along with speakers and demos. At any given hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. you had to choose between 18 tantalizing workshops, and a demo.

Doug and I divide and conquer by going to separate workshops and comparing notes later. This year the list included, building with trees (by our architect, Roald Gundersen), eco-driving (see my post 10 Ways to Save Gas and Save the Planet), year-round gardening, green countertops and floors, wind power generation, passive solar design, thermal mass and water storage/conservation tips.

The information is solid and ranges from tried and true techniques to cutting edge technologies like electric car prototypes. I attended a workshop on making window warmers only to learn that they are  made using almost the same workbook we used to make window warmers for a passive solar addition in the 1980s. Only change is a more efficient thermal layer and more precise sewing instructions. Check them out here.

The Energy Fair is a vast resource – one that 23,206 people took advantage of it this year. That’s a 5% increase from last year, according to MREA staffer Gina Sinisi. “We were really happy with that increase, especially considering the economy,” she told me.

The windmill presided over and while powering the energy fair.

The windmill presided over and powered the energy fair.

If you missed the fair, don’t panic. MREA has many more options you can take advantage of. Their ReNew the Earth Institute operates on the fair grounds year round as a demo site and educational facility with working models of renewable energy systems, including wind, PV, solar hot water and a masonry stove. Gina says she leads tours at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and takes a group through the institute just about every week. There is a lot to learn there, and MREA has a very pretty, rural setting, if you are in the area. They are an officially designated Travel Green Destination, recognized by Travel Green Wisconsin

MREA also offers more than 100 hands-on workshops taught by renewable energy experts that range from 1 day to 2 weeks long on topics from wind, PV and solar thermal systems to energy efficient and alternative construction techniques like straw bale and timber framing. Check the schedule for this year here.

Don’t forget the annual Solar Tour. Mark your calendar for the first weekend in October. I look forward to that every year. We come home with notes and photos about what to do and what not to do as we design our own house. We found the timber framer who built our wonderful barn through the solar tour. (check out his website here.) The tour is an encyclopedia of real people trying out alternatives who are happy to share their successes and failures and light the way to more sustainable living. MREA also maintains a list of year-round demonstrations sites. Check out the list here.

Kermit the Frog said, “It’s not easy being green” — but it’s getting easier.

Thank you, MREA.

My next post on Friday will be on idling engines.


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1 reply

  1. The Energy Fair article was great! Thank you so much for sharing your experience.



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