Monday, October 26, 2009

Talking about sunny money on a rainy day

It was raining again this morning, I was taking pictures, and these people were talking about sunny money. Governor Jim Doyle announced Wisconsin is receiving $4.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to support solar energy technologies, accelerate the adoption of solar energy and develop a solar workforce -- with Milwaukee receiving $650,000, Madison getting $375,000, and $3.3 million going the Midwest renewable Energy Association.

The news conference featured Gov. Doyle, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Tehri Parker, executive director of MREA, and was held in the Alicia Ashman Branch Library, Madison's solar library. It has solar panels on the roof, a solar awning, and is a site for the city's MadiSUN Solar Energy Program.

The public officials completed their statements and prepared to take questions from the media. That's when I saw something that doesn't happen very often -- a news conference at which the media's attention is completely hijacked by a breaking news story not on the program. There were no questions about solar energy or even the federal grant. Instead, reporters only asked Gov. Doyle and Mayor Barrett to comment on one thing -- the surprise announcement this morning by Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton that she would not be running for governor. Both men answered artfully without saying much. And when Barrett was asked whether he had talked with the Obama administration about running, he said he had talked to a lot of people, including some people in Washington, and will make up his mind soon. Then they were all off to Milwaukee for a second iteration of the news conference.

After the politicians left, so did the print and electronic journalists, taking their cameras and lights with them -- and it was still raining. Suddenly the library seemed almost empty. I took some pictures of the interior, a beautiful space I had never been in before. That's when I found out that there was a cherry picker in the parking lot out back. It was there to lift dignitaries up above the roof for a view of the solar panels, but given the rain, few took advantage of it. With my umbrella to ward off the drizzle, I was able to hitch a ride before the operator drove off and take this photo of the solar panels on the roof. I was so excited about my unconventional camera platform, I completely forgot I'm supposed to be nervous about heights.

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