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2nd Annual Floyd Energy Fair July 14th

Renewable energy is on the rise across the country, but Virginia is behind the curve.  Some people are not sure if it could work for them and others are just not sure how it works.  The Floyd Energy Fest coming up next weekend, has answers.  A collaboration of 'Sustain Floyd' and Apple River Farm, it features talks on wind and solar technologies, strategies for energy efficiency and hands on help applying for a USDA grant to cut installation costs.

Educational Energy Fairs are few and far between in this country.  Only a handful of places gather experts, create a venue and schedule lecturers to talk directly with people about these still relatively mysterious technologies.  The town of Floyd in southwestern Virginia held its first, last year, and next weekend they’ll hold the second.

It’s at beautiful Chantilly farm in Floyd and it’s a scenic venue that’s hard to beat. There are  a number of presentations: Wind, solar, energy efficient home systems and solar storage.

Rick Brown is an electrician who works with conventional and renewable energy.

“When I first moved here 10 years ago one of the things that attracted me to Floyd was that there was a center on Renewable Energy, The Association of Energy Conservation Professionals (AECP), and from them he learned that SE systems had been in place there for 20 years.

Brown recently designed a portable solar generator. He has solar panels on his house.  At the energy fair, he’ll give a talk on the different types of solar arrays and how they work.

“We have the standard grid -tie solar electric systems without batteries.”  That’s where you make electricity and send it to the grid. In Virginia, ‘net metering’ means that for each watt you generate your meter runs backward, racking up credits for the same amount of energy when you need it.

“We have a grid tie with battery back-up,” a more expensive arrangement because batteries can be expensive, but one that provides you with electricity during an outage or when the sun isn’t shining.

“And then we have your off-grid system. With the latter, you are your own power company. There’s no incoming energy (from a utility). It’s all you.”

It’s not only the different flavors of solar, and wind for that matter, that can be confusing.  The whole process of adding renewable energy can be difficult and many people are concerned about the upfront costs.

Dustyn Vallies is with Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University.  He’ll be at the Floyd Energy Fair with what he says is great news for people who want to add renewable energy.

“Something that we’re going to be spreading the word on is, there’s a lot US Department of Agriculture grant opportunities for agricultural producers and also rural small businesses specifically, that will reduce that payback” time by offsetting the cost of the system by 25%.

Vallies focuses on what’s known as ‘distributed wind power,’ small scale producers with turbines, making electricity for themselves and sending the excess to the grid. 

Remy Pangle is Associate Director at the center.  She says its goal is to triple the amount of windpower in Virginia.

“Right now, if you were to add up all the small turbines that we have in Virginia, presently we have about a megawatt.”

Pangle says the goal is to triple that over the next two years.

There are no utility scale wind farms in Virginia, but that’s about to change.  Charlie Johnson is with Apex Clean Energy, a wind power company in Charlottesville, which has installed several wind farms out west, where the winds blow strong. He he says technology has improved enough for wind farms to be built in places that may have a smaller wind profile, but which are ‘closer to demand.’

"We think we’ve found a few here in Virginia that make a lot of sense, specifically our project in Botetourt County that has received its state and local permits for the project," Johnson said. "We’re also looking at a project farther southwest, in Pulaski on Boy Scout land."

Johnson says the next move is to find the right purchaser of the wind power, most likely a private or commercial entity.  They’ve sold projects to IKEA and “It’s been interesting to see outside the utility market, there’s been a lot of interest on the corporate side to move towards clean energy whether it be wind or solar.”

But opposition to wind farms remains a concern.  “The biggest problem is convincing people, talking with people about the costs," says Remy Pangle. "For an owner, that investment is hard to justify. Knowing you’re doing a good thing for the earth and seeing a return on your investment are two different things. They’re two different sides of your brain.”

And two different sides of the coin when it comes to the intangibles around renewable energy.

Rick Brown is philosophical about it. He says, “Solar energy is one of those industries where people ask, ‘what’s the return on investment’ but they never ask what’s the return on investment on an oil furnace or a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Rick Brown, Remy Pangle, Dustin Valleys and Charlie Johnson will all be at the Floyd Energy Fair next Saturday. There’ll also be five Tesla electric cars on display and a ‘kid zone’ where they can build their own wind turbines.

Here is the schedule of events for the Floyd Energy Fest July 14th:

11:00 - 11:45"Wind Energy in Virginia:The JMU Center for Wind Energy Charlie Johnson
  Status, Future, and How to at James Madison University Dustyn Vallies
  Get Involved". and APEX Clean Energy of Mary Dobis
     Charlottesville will present the    
     status of the wind industry,  Charlie is the
     different programs and projects  Development
     that arein the works at various scales,Mangager for Apex.
     and what the future of wind energyMary and Dustyn
     in Virginia could look like. are involved in 
         Outreach and 
         Development for
         the Wind Center.
12:00 - 12:45"Energy Efficient SystemsAll the latest energy efficient  Ed Ricci 
  For the Home" systems, including heating your   
     house with dirt, geothermal with 30% Ed currently works
     tax credit, high efficiency heat pumps,for Tinbenders, Inc.
     min-splits, gas furnaces and boilers.and has over 20 
     What may be the most energy efficientyears experience in
     system for your home - existing or the HVAC industry.
     new construction?    
1:00 - 1:45"Solar Storage 101" An Introduction to the basics of batteryRick Brown
     storage in the context of solar electric  
     systems. Pros and cons of various typesRick is owner of 
     of battery technologies including Tesla'sSolshine Energy an
     Power Wall will also be discussed. electrical and solar 
         contracting firm.
2:00 - 2:45"Practical High  Learn what details to focus on when Ed Tuchler 
  Performance Homes: Newplanning a new home or retrofitting an  
  and Existing Construction"existing home, based on building  Ed is owner of 
     science principles, to make your homeShelter Alternatives
     comfortable, durable, and efficient.an award winning 
         design and build
         company in B'burg.
3:00 - 3:45"Building Integrated Solar A presentation on the different ways Alex Haney
  Products"  solar panels mount to building structures  
     and the latest on photovoltaic glassAlex is a solar
     reaearch and products. installer and project
         manager for AEC.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.