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Fun With Solar Energy

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With global warming starting to take its toll, Tucsonans have reasons to be concerned. From record-breaking heat waves to devastating droughts, the possible consequences of climate change in the desert are daunting. Fortunately, we're also in a prime position to access one of the best tools to reduce global warming: the sun itself. In light of this fact, it's not surprising that last year, two pairs of friends simultaneously and independently had the idea to harness the sun's energy to get Tucsonans revved up about fighting climate change.

In January 2007, Natalie Shepp and Lisa Dollinger joined UA students Emilie Brill-Duisberg and Richard Rushforth to plan a huge outdoor music and education festival--all run on solar power. Linking up with Food Conspiracy Co-Op outreach coordinator Torey Ligon, they hosted what they called Solar Rock last April as part of the Step It Up movement, a national call to organize events and spur Congress to pass legislation to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The Tucson gathering was a big success, earning rave reviews from its more than 2,000 attendees--and making a second edition pretty much mandatory. While no longer affiliated with Step It Up, this year's Solar Rock promises to be even better, with more speakers, bands and goings-on. Organizers say that new activities will include a canvas-bag-decorating workshop for kids, a "free meet" where people can trade unwanted household items, a station to recycle cell phones and computers, and a light-bulb exchange where people can trade in a regular incandescent bulb for a free fluorescent bulb--even if the old bulb is burned out. And for those pedaling to the event, there'll be free valet bike parking.

Scheduled speakers include Mayor Bob Walkup, Rep. Steve Farley, city of Tucson solar energy coordinator Bruce Plenk and local rainwater-harvesting celebrity Brad Lancaster. Ligon says she's especially excited about a talk by Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, director of the UA's Institute for the Study of Planet Earth and coordinating lead author of a report that hooked last year's Nobel Peace Prize for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (along with Al Gore, of course).

"Solar Rock is a great opportunity for this community," says Ligon. "It's important to take a stand on such a critical issue of our time, and this event is meant to inspire individual people to make changes in their own lives and also to recognize the collective power that we hold as a community to shape legislation. ... I also think one of our major goals is to have fun."

As for the fun, organizers have enlisted the musical skills of the three top finishers in this year's Tucson Battle of the Bands: twin-sister crooners Mirror Image, lively ska band Monterey and rockers Paul Revere. Jazz piano player Arthur Migliazza and Canadian duo Roth D'Lux will also play, and the audience will definitely get riled up for the energetic cultural mish-mash of Spirit Familia. For the truly young crowd, children's singer Bruce Phillips will sing.

Of course, all of this stuff requires power. The only real rule for Solar Rock is that no one may use any non-solar-generated electricity throughout the day. Instead, the entire event will be powered using an on-site trailer outfitted with solar panels, inverters and battery packs, donated for use by Tucson solar power company GeoInnovation. The trailer will simultaneously serve as a teaching tool, with GeoInnovation staffers on hand to show and tell the public how solar electricity is generated.

That's important, because one of the main points of Solar Rock is to show Tucson citizens how fun and easy solar power is--so they'll want to generate it in their own homes. To make it extra easy, Tucson Electric Power representatives will be on hand with information about their SunShare program, which offers tax incentives and buy-back options for people who outfit their houses with solar-energy systems. If you already have solar panels--or if setting them up just isn't an option right now--then you can check out TEP's other program, GreenWatts, which lets you donate money through your electric bill to fund solar systems on schools and community buildings. Many other green companies and groups will be at the event to promote sustainability in all its forms.

And what about the people who drive to the event? Yes, it's hard to avoid burning fossil fuels altogether--that's why Solar Rock is selling recycled Solar Rock T-shirts for $4 each, and the profits will go toward investing in carbon offsets.

"This is the only solar-powered event that's expected to happen annually in Tucson," says Shepp. "And it's only going to get bigger and better."

Solar Rock will occur from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, March 29, at Himmel Park, 1000 N. Tucson Blvd. The event is free. Call 349-3224 for more information.

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