State fair's Eco Experience shows the way to conserveby Kateri Jochum, Minnesota Public Radio
There is a new attraction at the State Fair this year and it isn't another food item on a stick. It's located in the Progress Center building, and to find it, just look for something that looks like a flagpole out front.
Falcon Heights, Minn. — It's not actually a flagpole. It's white, not silver, it's fat around the bottom, and, to be honest, it doesn't even have a flag. But it does do a bit of flag-waving -- for the Eco Experience exhibit at this year's state fair.
"It's 123 feet tall, and it's a blade off a one-and-a-half megawatt turbine, which is a typical turbine that you would find in the southwestern part of the state," says Jeff Ledermann, with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The turbine he's referring to is a wind turbine. The blade sticking out of the ground usually spins in the air to produce wind energy, or clean energy, as Ledermann calls it. Minnesota is the fourth highest wind energy producer in the U.S.
"During the course of the year it would operate to provide enough electricity for about 600 homes," Ledermann says.
Of course, not everyone can put a wind turbine in their yard. But Ledermann says the Eco Experience shows there's still a lot we can do every day to help the environment.
Like recycling. Minnesotans are great recyclers. We recycle more than any other state. But we still produce 20 percent more trash than we did just a decade ago.
"You are looking at Trash Mountain," Ledermann says.
This exhibit demonstrates how each week, each Minnesotan creates about 45 pounds of trash. Visitors can walk through the mountain and learn what happens to all our waste.
Out of the pile of waste comes a voice.
"Phew. Burp! Excuse me, that was a real stinker. Quite a load."
That's Bernie the Burn Barrel, the animated voice of Trash Mountain. Bernie is not the most eloquent of greeters, but Bernie does get the point across. Pollutants of all kinds float through the air, landing on streets and houses.
And that's not just bad for breathing. When it rains, those chemicals flow into lakes and streams and pollute them too. More than 2,000 lakes in Minnesota don't meet water quality standards.
John Barry, a hydrogeologist with Emmons and Olivier Resources in Oakdale, describes one way to reduce the contamination of Minnesota waters.
"You are looking at a rain garden. We are mimicking stormwater falling upon a rooftop or parking lot. It is running off and is being collected in rain gardens," Barry says.
On one side of the rain garden, a rain barrel collects storm water for gardening. In the middle, a bronze rain chain directs the water from the downspout into a green pond, where native wetland plants and grasses help to purify it before it reaches the groundwater.
"On the other side are pervious pavements, four different variants, that actually allows water to soak into the pavement rather than running off the pavement into receiving water, like lakes or rivers," says Barry.
The roof that all this water is coming from is the largest single exhibit in the Eco Experience building. It is the one-and-a-half story, 900 square-foot Eco House. Greg Holst of Northwoods Custom Homes in Elk River, the company that built the house, says it is a showcase for green home technologies.
"We have done a cutaway version of the house so you can actually see the insulation in the panels. We brought in different technologies with a geothermal heat system and our air exchanger. And we've signed areas of the house, because if you walked in you might think it was a regular house," says Holst.
Of course, in building, cost is a big issue.
Next to the big Eco House, the University of Minnesota has erected a small prototype home designed at the university. Billy Webber, a fellow at the Center for Sustainable Building Research, says the goal is to build a green home for $100 a square foot.
"Housing uses 33 percent of the energy that we use in the state. So in that way it is very impactful if we improve energy efficiency," Webber says.
Throughout the state fair, more than 100 government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private businesses will come together to talk about ecology at the Eco Experience.
By the way, last year, the 1.5 million visitors at the State Fair produced 2,800 tons of waste. A fair spokeswoman says 2,000 tons of trash were recycled. The other 800 tons were sent to the NRG plant in Newport, where the metal was recycled and the rest was burned.
The Eco Experience will be open each day of the fair from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Morning Edition, 08/24/2006, 7:54 a.m.