March 19, 2009

Being good stewards of the earth is important to many people, but it's often the bottom line that motivates folks to change their energy-hungry habits. That was what organizers believed when they designed the first Madison County Home Energy Expo held recently in Richmond.

If the line of people outside the building a half-hour before the expo opened was any indication, they were right.

Gina Noe, Madison County family and consumer sciences agent for University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, said a recent Berea College survey showed that 94 percent of Madison Countians felt they had been negatively impacted by rising energy costs.

"Kentuckians are used to having inexpensive energy costs, but with the new federal regulations we see coming down the road, we feel like that's about to change," she said. "We wanted to educate Madison Countians on how they could be more energy-efficient."

Noe was struck by how successful a similar expo had been in Meade County and initially considered having a "little energy expo" in the Madison County extension office. But others on the extension council had ideas for a bigger event, which required a larger venue, Glenn R. Marshall Elementary School.

"We also wanted to showcase some of our businesses and our organizations that do energy things - give them a chance to show off their products and their services," she said.

There probably were as many reasons people attended as there were people attending. Nearly 600 people braved the rain to attend the event. Some were looking for ways to save a few dollars on their energy bills, others were interested in living more sustainably. One couple in particular was in the process of building a new home and was looking for cost-effective, energy-efficient ideas.

Participants had their choice from a variety of exhibits and classes. The school's gymnasium was filled with exhibits that included nonprofit organizations focused on sustainability, clean watersheds and safe disposal of chemical weapons to retail companies that offer low volatile organic compound materials and builders who specialize in green construction.

Down the hall, sessions on energy efficiency attracted so many people that it was standing room only. Robert Fehr, extension professor in the UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, spoke about the concepts behind green building and remodeling. Berea College's Jason Coomes gave simple measures homeowners could take to lower energy bills. From Appalachia Science in the Public Interest and the Kentucky Solar Partnership, Andy McDonald introduced solar electric and solar water heating options to his audience. Bruce Pratt, from the Department of Agriculture at Eastern Kentucky University, spoke on biofuels, while the owner of Living Gardens, Beate Popkin, offered suggestions for using native plants in the landscape.

Noe said they wanted to include more than just home energy-saving ideas, which was the reasoning for including sessions about biofuels for farmers.

"Everybody's impacted by energy," she said.

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