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Wray host to renewable energy conference

WRAY—“Wind, Water & Sun…. Renewing the Common Wealth of Energy,” a conference focusing on opportunities in production of energy from renewable sources as one solution to revitalizing rural communities was held at the Wray High School’s Kitzmiller Auditorium, Sept. 25. The conference was presented by the Ogallala Commons Project (OCP), which receives funding and other assistance from Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) Cooperative Development Center.

“We chose to hold this conference in Wray because it is at the headwaters of the Republican River, an important part of the Ogallala Aquifer, and because Wray is a great example of a rural community that has capitalized on its resources to enhance the quality of life of its citizens and to energize local entrepreneurs to establish new businesses,” said Robert Mailander, director of RMFU’s Cooperative Development Center.

The purpose of the conference was to look at possibilities for renewable energy generation as well as to see how energy generation fits with preservation of the natural and social resources that are abundant in the rural communities overlying the Ogallala Aquifer. The OCP is a resource network providing leadership for creating thriving communities sustained by healthy land and abundant water in the High Plains Ogallala Aquifer Region.

“The (agricultural) strategy we’ve developed is not sustainable, because farming has become energy dense, using 10 calories of (total) energy to produce one calorie of food,” said Richard, Manning, a journalist and activist from Lolo, Mont. “So-called primitive farming methods expend one calorie to produce 10 calories of food, so who is primitive?”
While Manning’s comments gave participants a non-traditional point-of-view to consider in seeking solutions to revitalization of their rural communities, other speakers addressed specific ways rural communities have launched innovative community development programs.

Kevin Miller, professor of applied sciences at Chadron State College, Chadron, Neb., explained various projects his students undertake to solve common problems. Among the nearly two dozen projects presented were a low-fuel usage car engine design contest, a challenge to design smaller houses with all the features of today’s larger houses, technology to improve recycling programs, and experimentation to use vegetable oil discarded by restaurants and turn it into diesel fuel.

“All the work we do is with low-tech, readily available, inexpensive materials, and is designed to provide solutions to everyday challenges on farms, ranches and in small communities,” Miller said.

Michael Holton, a presenter with the Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Neb., told participants, “As you approach community development projects, don’t become confused into believing that economic development is synonymous with community development; rather it is only one part of it.”

Holton gave a variety of examples of how his organization has worked with rural communities to assist them in finding solutions to problems they face. In one case, the center worked with young people in a Nebraska community to bring a farmers market to their community. In another community, volunteers worked with the center to put together a directory of independent and home-based businesses, which numbered over 700 in a county with around 5,000 residents.

In addition to the conference agenda, folk singer and songwriter Andy Wilkinson, Lubbock, Tex., was the featured artist at three OCP-sponsored chautauquas. The events, which featured music, poetry and other cultural presentations, were held Sept. 24, Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 in Wray, Idalia, and Burlington, respectively. Prior to the conference, conference participants toured Wray’s community development projects, including the Department of Wildlife Fish Hatchery & Republican River Watershed, Rural Ameritowne, and local artisans.