Renewable energy proponents continue to press wind, solar, water messages |

Renewable energy proponents continue to press wind, solar, water messages

Carbondale resident Ed Eaton is a big solar power proponent, but when it comes to energy policy he believes President Bush is the one full of hot air.

Eaton claimed that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are determined to milk every cent out of fossil fuel use for the benefit of their friends in the oil industry. They have little regard for America’s long-term needs or the effects of oil and gas extraction on the environment, he charged.

“It’s a disgrace, not an energy policy,” he said.

Eaton and his colleagues at Carbondale-based Solar Energy International have no illusions that renewable energy resources such as sun, wind and water will overtake fossil fuels as the primary power source within their lifetimes.

Nevertheless, they patiently chip away and offer alternatives to those who listen. And there are plenty who listen.

SEI was founded as a nonprofit organization 11 years ago and has thrived at teaching and consulting people about the alternatives available in national, regional and even household energy consumption. Its staff has grown to 11 at its headquarters in the old town hall of Carbondale. Outside are numerous photovoltaic panels of all shapes and sizes, all glimmering in silver.

The panels allow SEI to send power back into the grid and also charge batteries that provide backup power to the building, which it shares with other nonprofits.

SEI earns about 65 percent of its income by consulting people about energy and sustainable construction practices. That’s a high amount for a nonprofit and one Eaton and his colleagues proudly tout. The remaining 35 percent of income is generated from grants and memberships.

The organization is dedicated to spreading the word that renewable energy systems are practical, reliable, cost-effective and healthier for people and the environment. SEI’s Renewable Energy Education Program teaches the practical use of solar, wind and water power.

“Our workshops are designed to give individuals the knowledge and skills to design, install and maintain renewable energy systems and to build state-of-the-art solar homes that are efficient, practical and earth friendly,” the organization’s Web site says.

Workshop students “come from all walks of life,” from a 12-year-old to an 82-year-old and from activists to businessmen, according to Eaton.

Awareness of the energy dilemma is growing. Utilities sell the limited power available from wind and photovoltaic sources as quickly as they offer it. The use of renewable resources grew 42 percent last year, though it still lags far behind traditional sources, according to Eaton.

That type of interest is indicative of the direction he believes the country is taking.

“I’m optimistic over the long term that we’re going to make these changes,” said Eaton. “The timetable is arguable, but nobody is arguing the point that we’re going to run out of fossil fuels.”

SEI will share its knowledge of alternatives at its seventh annual Solar Potluck and Exhibition Saturday, July 6, at Sopris Park in Carbondale. Attendees will receive “a giant overview of what’s out there” for alternative energy sources, Eaton said.

The festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. Children’s activities, including a solar oven building and cooking workshop, begin at noon. Music by jam band One Kind Favor will start at 2 p.m.

A community potluck dinner will be held at 5 p.m. Participants should bring a dish as well as a plant and utensils.

There will also be cooking demonstrations with a solar oven and a free raffle of an oven. Participants must simply draw a picture of the sun. A picture will be selected at random.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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