Stephen A. Fuqua (saf)

a Bahá'í, software engineer, and nature lover in Austin, Texas, USA

Reflecting on a "Power to Choose" Energy Workshop

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Lately, I have been in such a mode of doing that being has taken a back seat. As I try to enter a more contemplative mood, particularly regarding social action in response to global climate change, I feel so saturated with facts and obvious conclusions that new inputs are no longer enriching my knowledge or perceptions, and mere contemplation feels hollow. But reflection on action… that may yet have some bearing on the course of future action. So, let’s look at today’s action: a workshop on choosing a power provider.

In Texas, deregulation means that we have energy generators, transmitters, and dozens of providers that sit in between those two and the consumer. There can be significant differences in cost, customer service, and mixtures of power sources between hundreds of different plans. As a way of helping move people away from the companies with the worst power sources (e.g. coal), Dallas Interfaith Power & Light (D-IPL) agreed to partner with the Sierra Club on a workshop about choosing a power provider. Truthfully, the Lone Star Sierra Club did all of the work and D-IPL made a limited (due to our newness and availability) effort to get the word out.

Meeting at the Dallas Central Library, we looked at, exploring the tools it provides for learning about power providers. The intention was to reach out to people who are more likely to be concerned about cost than about “green energy” - but, the two actually go hand-in-hand (it is claimed): the most expensive retail provider is the biggest provider in North Texas and has the dirtiest coal plants [I have verified that the cost is very high and that one of the nation’s most polluting coal plants is owned by the parent company of that provider]. However, we only had a small group of people who are supporters of D-IPL and/or the Sierra Club. While it was incredibly useful working with them, from an expectations stand-point one might consider it a failure. This despite on-the-ground outreach efforts by the Sierra Club staffer, who visited with people in lower income neighborhoods and some churches.

We knew going into it that this would be an experiment, and before packing up we took the time for some reflection. Everyone who heard about the workshop seemed genuinely interested, but few came: if we wish to turn this event into a process, then we must learn to take the workshop to them. Go to local community centers, libraries, and churches. Furthermore, the presentation will be turned into a set of YouTube videos and/or webinars to allow dissemination to anyone who may be interested.

Helping people explore such a trivial-seeming, but in truth very important, decision is actually quite easy for anyone who is comfortable with a computer and with a small degree of studying the numbers. Perhaps our next step should be to train the trainers, and then ask these volunteers to identify a location, begin developing a relationship with the “management” there (e.g. librarians, deacons, administrators), and schedule a workshop for local residents to explore their energy options together.

Posted with : Social Discourse, Climate Change