PowerSouth News Center

CEO Column: Energy Education


Gary Smith

June 2017

Energy Education

 

I give a number of civic club presentations. I call them my “Rotary Club talks.” I start each presentation by picking an unsuspecting victim and asking, “Where does electricity come from?” The answers vary, but the most common answer I get (about 30% of the time) is, “out of the wall” or the “the switch.” I always follow up those responses with, “So how did it get into the wall?” The answers then become more logical as the victims think more about power lines and where the lines come from. However, about three years ago, one victim – a Rotarian – responded, “They put it in there when they built the house.”

In elementary and high school, we were taught that electricity came from hydroelectric dams. I grew up in north Mississippi about 15 miles from Pickwick Lake, one of the lakes and dams the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built to electrify the South. Pickwick Dam, with its locks and gates, was huge. I assumed it produced enough electricity to supply all of Mississippi. I didn’t think any more about electricity than your average Rotarian.

I shouldn’t have been surprised a couple of years ago when Christi Scruggs in our Communications Department stopped me in the lobby to tell me her son was being taught that coal and natural gas had provided cheap electricity for years, but they were now ruining the environment. In the future, electricity would be provided by solar and wind generation. After all, if I grew up thinking all electricity came from Pickwick Dam and the average Rotarian thinks it comes out of the wall, then it is not a stretch for teachers to believe that all electricity in the future will come from renewables.

For many decades, electricity has been generated by coal and, for a number of years, by natural gas. Electricity from fossil fuels has been cheap and has been the primary driver of our economy. Cheap fossil-fuel generated electricity has also allowed all Americans to greatly improve their quality of life and to enjoy the benefits of a modern society. Finally, abundant and affordable electricity has allowed America to separate itself from the rest of the world and become a global superpower. Even the average Rotarian should know that fossil-fuel generated electricity has provided more benefit than harm.

The people who write text books guided by the Common Core education curriculum are more political than the average Rotarian. Therefore, our young people are being taught that all electricity in the future will come from renewables. However, they are not being taught where energy really comes from today – not just electricity but all energy in the electric sector, the manufacturing sector, the transportation sector, the heating sector and all other energy uses. The numbers will be surprising to our children, but more than 80% of the energy used in the world today comes from fossil fuels, about 9% comes from nuclear, and the rest from different sources including renewables. My teachers would be pleased to know that hydroelectric power makes up the largest portion of renewable production.

To help the public understand the huge gap between where we are in energy use and what our children are being taught, a few of PowerSouth’s Trustees encouraged us to start an energy education program for the teachers in our service area. We engaged the NEED Project, which was founded by scientists and educators who believe school-aged children should be better informed about the realities of energy sources and production. NEED is founded upon real science, not just political motivations. The program is not anti-climate change or anti-renewables. It is not slanted toward fossil fuels. It is just the truth about energy and the cost of energy, today and into the future.

We just completed the first energy education session. We hosted 284 Alabama and Florida school teachers for two full days. The NEED staff did an outstanding job of explaining the basics of energy use and production. The different sources, uses and costs of energy were explained in detail. The teachers were provided materials to use in their classrooms to provide their students the real picture of energy today.

The intent is not to arbitrarily promote the use of energy for political agendas. We merely want our children, who will be the leaders of tomorrow, to be knowledgeable of energy, use, production and cost to make informed decisions in the future. Also, we would like for them to be smarter than the average Rotarian.

I hope you have a good month.



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