Green energy summit produces electric atmosphere

Many of those who attended a green energy summit Saturday sponsored by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-10th, of Deerfield, left ready to take action.

Held at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, a panel of six experts joined Schneider and state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-31st, of Grayslake, telling more than 60 people ways to save on their energy bill while reducing their carbon footprint. The goal, Schneider said, was to get people talking to each other and hopefully spur action.

Sitting at tables of 10, the first 30 minutes was designed for networking, followed by presentations from lawmakers and experts.

“If you want to get people talking, round tables are good for that. This had that effect,” Schneider said.

He also hoped the group would develop a better understanding of the intersection of environmental protection and economic growth.

“For our economy to have long-term prosperity, we have to have green-energy innovation,” Schneider said.

Lynne Atherton of Waukegan had already helped her place of worship, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, do an energy audit, but felt more could be done.

“My late partner was very involved in the environment both religiously and politically and I am here because of him,” Atherton said. “We are stewards of the environment and we have to do a better job of stewardship.”

One of the experts who reached Atherton was Seth Johnson, an organizer with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. He talked about the benefits of solar energy, dispelling the myth it was an energy source for warm weather climates like California and Florida.

“Florida only gets 20 more minutes of light than we do here in Illinois,” Johnson said. “When you put solar panels on your roof, you put a cushion in your electric bill. Once you install the panels, there is no fuel cost [from the sun].”

Atherton was motivated by what she heard.

“I will definitely be looking into solar panels,” she said after the event.

Rick Fox of Antioch was enthusiastic about the possibilities of solar energy as well. He also heeded warnings from Tom Conway, the regional program manager of the Blue Green Alliance, a collaborative effort between 10 labor unions and five environmental groups. He warned of job losses as utilities are powered more by renewable sources and less by fossil fuel such as coal.

“These are good union jobs with benefits you can put your kids through college on,” Conway said. “We have to replace these jobs with similar jobs.”

Conway talked about solar panels coming into the area made in China. Fox wants Schneider to work in Congress to see that goods like those are manufactured in the United States.

“I got a lot out of this. It opened my eyes,” Fox said. “Solar panels used in the United States should not be made in China. Drywall made in China put too much sulfur in new homes.”

The message of cultivating local jobs in the field of green energy made its way to Bush and Lake County Sustainability Coordinator K.C. Doyle.

Doyle spends a lot of time educating other county officials about environmental consciousness, but occasionally comes across an entrepreneur.

“I met an electric car manufacturer who was trying to show you could drive from one end of the state to the other on the battery [without recharging it]. He told me he was looking for a place to make the cars. He said ‘Lake County would be an outstanding place because it’s so auto centric,’” Doyle said.

Bush also met the entrepreneurial car maker.

“I met the electric car guy and we talked about economic development in Lake County,” she said.

Diana Fox of Antioch said she liked what she heard about energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability.

“I’m a tree hugger from 40 years ago,” she said. “I have done cleanups and gleaning gardening.”

Other summit participants were Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin, who talked about the benefits of new energy sources; Nick Magrisso, a policy advocate from the Natural Resources Defense Council, who discussed wind energy; and Bryan McDaniel of the Citizens Utility Board, who gave tips on lowering an electric bill while reducing a carbon footprint.

“This isn’t going to change unless we make changes in our homes and do it now,” Bush said.

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