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All the fun of the fair

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The ninth annual Midwest Renewable Energy Fair was the largest ever, thanks in part to the appearance of consumer advocate legend and political hell-raiser Ralph Nader. The three day midsummer event in Amherst, Wisconsin, drew 11,000 people who came to hear speeches, see renewable energy exhibits, and take part in workshops.

Fair entertainment ranged from technical demonstrations of off-grid photovoltaic systems to puppet shows on energy conservation. Southwest Windpower and Lake Michigan Wind and Sun showcased small wind turbines and provided power to the fair. Southwest claims to have the world's best selling wind turbine, a 300 watt unit called the Air, with 17,000 units sold in the last three years.

Ralph Nader spoke in his own inimitable fashion, railing against corporate power and urging grassroots political action. Though he spoke only indirectly of energy issues, he did preview the new "Ratepayers for Affordable and Green Electricity" campaign -- RAGE -- undertaken by a coalition of over 50 organisations, led by his group Public Citizen. Nader's speech was sponsored by the Customers First Coalition, a group opposing "radical" utility deregulation. Though the group includes a broad range of senior citizens, labour and environmental groups, it also has utility Madison Gas and Electric among its members. Nader commended the utility and quipped that it was a "corporation capable of mutation."

MG&E says it is in the process of working with landowners for the development of an 11 MW wind farm. The utility recently switched its focus to a site near Rosiere, Wisconsin, after encountering a small band of determined opponents to its first site, near Lake Winnebago.

Also at the fair, Wisconsin Electric announced it had received 19 proposals totalling 49 MW in response to its Request for Proposals for 5 MW of renewables issued in April. The utility said the response is such that more than 5 MW of contracts could result. Since then the utility has issued a second RFP, this time for 75 MW of renewables (story page 22).

At the fair, State Senator Robert Cowles, chair of the Senate's Energy and Environment Committee, took part in a panel on renewable energy politics. He told of his experience in the early 1980s, installing 16 wind turbines in northeast Wisconsin for a cable TV company. He used the chance to announce a permanent extension of a state property tax exemption for customer-sited renewable energy generators.

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