CUSTER, Wis. The man's fishing cap has a picture of a fish piloting a boat. Under the picture it states, "My wife says I fish too much."
Not the kind of person you'd expect at an alternative energy fair in this bucolic central Wisconsin community known for progressive thinking and it's back-to-nature lifestyle.
But the fisherman is standing in front of Mike Mitchell's booth at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's annual fair grilling the electric bike dealer from Milwaukee about how long it will take the recharge the battery on the "Mikey" bike. "What size is the motor?" the fisherman asks. "Thirty-six volts," Mitchell responds.
"How do I get a dealership?" counters the fisherman, wheels turning in his head.
The fisherman's son joins in, saying he's interested in an electric bike to haul his kayak back after long, tiring river trips.
This and countless other examples illustrate how soaring energy costs are pushing alternative power and green technology into the mainstream. This year's energy fair was the largest ever, according to the association's executive director, Tehri Parker.
A quick survey of the fair parking lot revealed visitors from as far away as Wyoming and Florida. Parker said the estimated attendance of more than 25,000 for the three-day event might be low since it didn't count attendees who arrived by bus and bike.
Most booths hawking solar, geothermal, wind and solar thermal products were buzzing on the last day of the fair, despite occasional downpours. The talk at one solar thermal dealer's booth focused on concepts like "cold climate water heating" and "solar flywheels" capable of storing hot water for months.
Given the prospect of $5-a-gallon gas, next year's energy fair--again timed for the summer solstice--is likely to attract unexpected visitors like the fisherman and his son.
For more coverage of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association energy fair, view our slideshow.