The Sierra Club partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County on Thursday afternoon to educate children about clean energy and to hold a town hall meeting to discuss renewable energy with members of the community.
Both events were geared toward giving Arkansans of all ages the opportunity to contribute their ideas to the development of Gov. Mike Beebe’s clean energy plan, which is currently being formulated.
Lev Guter with the Sierra Club said that the Pine Bluff visit was important because it was the last of four meetings held across the state during the summer months and because it was the only one to focus on input from children.
“Today we showed the kids how solar energy works in part by giving them fresh popcorn made with a solar-powered popcorn machine,” Guter said. “They then were given the opportunity to do an art project in which they made pictures of solar panels. Young people may not know the intricate details of how renewable energy works, but they do have a vision of what they want to see in the future in their heads.
“In a large way this is the children’s town hall and is allowing them to express their wishes through art,” Guter said. “We want to reach youth who may not have as much exposure to renewable technologies. It is important that they get the math and science backgrounds that will allow them to get green jobs. We can’t wait until they are in college for them to decide that they want to enter the field of renewable energy.”
“The Sierra Club has tasked itself with holding these town halls across the state,” Guter said. “In June we held our first meeting at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, and 100 people attended. In July we held a town hall in Fayetteville with 60 people attending. Just last week we held a town hall at Hendrix College in Conway with 80 people attending. Here in Pine Bluff we are giving the youth a voice in the clean energy conversation.”
Guter said Beebe tasked the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to lead an effort in coordination with the Arkansas Public Service Commission and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to develop an energy plan for the state.
“The governor’s energy plan will be turned into a package of proposed rules and regulations,” Guter said. “The Sierra Club in partnership with Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light decided to hold these meetings to allow as many Arkansans as possible to provide their input into the formation of the governor’s energy plan.”
Information provided by Guter laid out the governor’s policy goals for energy, including:
• Meeting the full potential of biomass resources through the widespread production of biofuels;
• Increasing the energy independence of the nation and the state by maximizing energy efficiency and encouraging the development of biofuels, natural gas and solar and wind energy;
• Encouraging an economic transformation by providing the training and demand for 21st Century green jobs;
• Transforming state and local government into leaders in building and transportation efficiency and sustainability;
• And fostering the sustainable use of Arkansas’ resources that will enable environmental preservation and economic prosperity.
Bruce Lockett of Future Builders Inc. discussed his advocacy of renewable energy.
“Everybody that wants to use renewable energy should be given as many incentives as possible,” Lockett said. “Until you get enough demand for things like solar energy the use of it by the government is the best way to create demand. I am an advocate for giving residents energy audits of their homes and then giving them credits and incentives to get what they need to increase energy efficiency. This will also create jobs for energy auditors.
“We need to let people know that green energy is not just something for people with money who are vegetarians,” Lockett said. “They need to know that increasing energy efficiency is just common sense. People have been putting plastic up on their windows in the winter to keep out the wind for years and this is actually a way to increase energy efficiency. So people need to realize that green energy is not just some pie-in-the-sky idea. We need to let people know that increasing energy efficiency is achievable in different ways.”
Coal-burning power plants
Guter also discussed the Sierra Club’s view that coal-burning power plants are no longer a viable form of energy production.
“The No. 1 man-made source of mercury in fish is the emissions of coal-burning power plants,” Guter said. “The Sierra Club opposed the renewing of the operation permit for the White Bluff coal-burning power plant in Redfield last year. We opposed it because the permit is good for five years but stricter emissions requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency will go into effect in three years that White Bluff will not have to comply with immediately.”
Guter said that the operators of the Flint Creek coal-burning power plant near Gentry, Ark., will be going before the Public Service Commission Oct. 9 to ask for a rate increase to pay for retrofitting of the facility to bring it into compliance with EPA emissions requirements.
“They will be asking for a $400 million rate increase that will be passed on to consumers,” Guter said.
Bill Ball with the Arkansas Renewable Energy Association provided the children with a demonstration of the solar energy process and explained how he created his solar-powered panel van that was part of the display.
“I guess it was around the year 2000,” Ball said. “The truck had a gasoline engine that went bad. I took out the old engine and put in a reconditioned forklift motor that I bought at an electric motor shop.”
Ball said that the truck has a large solar battery that converts the sun’s rays into power.
“It has a 5500 watt or 5.5 kilowatt inverter that converts DC power to AC power,” Ball said. “I can use it to power saws, compressors, nail guns — you name it. I have built three houses using the power supplied by that van.”
Ball said that it is capable of going 40 mph on a flat stretch of road but is not a road vehicle because of its lack of a transmission.
“I worked with the Arkansas Energy Office and said that I would go to schools and teach students about solar energy if they would cover my costs,” Ball said. “They paid for my gas and my time. I went to 50 different schools around the state, including universities and the Department of Correction.”
Ball said that he developed many different solar-powered items to show the students.
“I have a huge lens that I use to set a piece of paper on fire to demonstrate solar energy,” Ball said. “I have a solar water heater that I attached a steam whistle to that will blow when steam is generated. I also have a solar powered wind turbine.”