The right thing isn’t always the easiest – or most economical or efficient thing. But what if it was? Picture this: What if getting solar panels on your home meant the electric meter would run backwards and you could pocket the savings? What if food waste from restaurants and colleges was used to create biofuels – and for a profit? What if dirty cooking oils from restaurants could be cleaned up and refined to power commercial fleets of trucks and buses? It would save money and resources and create new jobs. It’s not just a pipe dream. These things are happening. Right now. In the Sandhills. The Sustainable Sandhills Clean Energy Summit on Saturday, Feb. 20, brings together government officials, educators, industry and small businesses for an open discussion about clean energy and what it means for the community’s schools, homes, jobs and businesses. It’s free and there is offsite children’s programming as well.

The summit opens at 11 a.m. for registration and the Clean Energy Business Pitch and Networking Coffee. Dr. Cindy Burns of Fayetteville Technical Community College and Tamara Bryant of the Small Business Center will speak.

At noon, N.C. Representative John Szoka presents the keynote speech “The Energy Freedom Act.”  Hailed as a bill that goes above and beyond by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, this legislation, of which Szoka is a sponsor, seeks to promote opportunities for homeowners and businesses to “generate more renewable and affordable energy on their own property.” “Representative Szoka will be talking about the future of energy in North Carolina,” said Sustainable Sandhills Executive Director Hanah Ehrenreich. “He is a Republican and a conservative and he has really embraced renewable energy. He sees it as good socially, economically and educationally.” 

The remainder of the day’s programming is broken up into three tracks: business/entrepreneurs, energy professional and job seekers and residents. While the topics are geared for different groups of people, attendees are welcome to go to any of the sessions they choose. 

Ehrenreich is excited about the speakers and said that she is expecting about 300 people to attend. “We have several excellent presentations planned,” she said. Topics include things like how to grow your business by getting on a national board. “Gary Bilbro served on the Carolina Recycling Association and the National Recycling Coalition. He runs Smart Recycling. He runs a main street composting program in Charleston that is unbelievable. And he just got a contract with Fort Bragg to take compostable waste from DFACs. He also does school recycling from dining halls at Coastal Carolina and ECU. His business model is sound and it is growing, which is really exciting to see.”

Grease for Good recycles cooking oil. The company is based in eastern North Carolina. The company works with schools and businesses to bring clean burning locally-made biodiesel to run fleets of trucks and buses.

Fayetteville State University’s Dr. Juan Ma teaches public policy related courses and is leading the effort to integrate sustainability into academic programs.

Jay Blauser is UNC Pembroke’s first Sustainability Director. As such, he works to make UNC a leader in sustainability both operationally and academically.  Under his watch, the campus is the first college in the state to partner with the  U.S. Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge.

NC Warn is a 26-year-old nonprofit in Durham that focuses on climate change. Sally Robertson is the Solarize Coordinator at NC Warn and will present at the Solar as Social Justice session during the three 0’clock hour.

Mark Brown will represent PWC, Fayetteville’s Hometown Utility at the Sustainable Sandhills Clean Energy Summit during the discussion about the state of power in the Sandhills.

Sometimes energy trends are obvious and sometimes they are a bit more extreme and creative. “We have a tiny house that will be shown from Carolina sustainable structures,” said Ehrenreich. “The gentleman who is joining us will present it and talk about tiny houses. There will also be electric vehicles for people to look at and learn about.”

Cumberland County Public Library and Information Center is partnering with Sustainable Sandhills for this event and is set to provide children’s programming from noon until 4:30 p.m. “They are going to do kitchen science and construction projects,” said Eherenreich. “They are going to do some good stuff. It is for ages 8-12 and the library does require that parents pre-register their children.”

The Clean Energy Summit takes place at New Century International Elementary School at 7465 Century Circle. Doors open at 11 a.m. Visit http://www.sustainablesandhills.org/ to register or for more information.

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