ROGERSVILLE — On the evening of Aug. 26, the Energy Democracy Tour, which is organized by Appalachian Voices and Working Films, made a stop in Rogersville as part of the Tennessee Valley portion of the tour. There is also a North Carolina and Virginia portion of the tour in addition to small segments in Kentucky and Alabama.
This particular stop was hosted by Care NET Community Conservation Committee, which is a local chapter of the Sierra Club. According to Care NET’s Facebook page, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/northeasttennesseeteam , the group consists of “Northeast Tennessee citizens who care about protecting, preserving and enjoying nature and the environment of East Tennessee.”
Members of Powell Valley Electric Cooperative Member Voices, whose Facebook page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/powellvalleyelectriccooperativemembervoices/, were also in attendance.
About the tourAccording to Working Films’ website, the purpose of the Energy Democracy Tour is to “provide opportunities for community members to discuss the history and impacts of the TVA energy system, evaluate decision making, and invite attendees to envision how our public power could better serve communities in the Valley.”
During each stop on the tour, attendees watch portions of the film The Electric Valley, which is an independent documentary film that attempts to tell the story of how TVA came to be and how it has affected the residents who live within its boundaries. The film is played using a solar-powered projector. Working Films’ website explained that, “by powering film events with solar, we’re offering inspiration on the screen while modeling what alternative energy and climate solutions should look like.”
After the film, members of Appalachian Voices and Working films lead attendees in discussions over their experiences involving TVA, their vision for the future of energy, and ways that attendees can make these visions become reality.
Addressing problems and finding solutions“Appalachian Voices works with communities and utility leaders around Appalachia on addressing how we interact with our local utility and hopefully acknowledging some of the problems that we have and trying to find solutions with the utilities and the community members,” said Jack Meyer, Appalachian Voices’ Vista Community Organizer, to the gathered crowd. “This Energy Democracy tour is really a listening project. We go to these communities and hear your stories and your experiences with TVA, which is the largest energy provider here in Tennessee.”
And, listen, they did.
In an effort to gather opinions and stories from attendees at each tour event, the event organizers created a large timeline that they bring to each stop on the tour. The timeline is large enough to cover an entire wall, and it covers the span of time from TVA’s inception in 1933 to the not-so-distant year of 2030. Attendees are provided with sticky notes on which they can write their experiences and place them on the timeline.
A part of the event also consisted of a small-group workshop, where attendees learned about the branches of TVA through a game. This exercise was intended to inform citizens of the ways through which their input can be conveyed to those in charge of TVA.
At the end, Meyer and Working Films’ Campaign Coordinator Andy Myers facilitated a group discussion centered on the following questions: Who can ratepayers contact at TVA? How can the community be involved in TVA’s decision-making process? In an ideal world, what does our energy future look like? What needs to change at TVA for us to reach our energy future?
How can citizens be involved?In regard to ways that citizens can be more involved in the decision-making process at TVA, one attendee explained that it’s important to note “that TVA and TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) do work for us.”
Thus, she argued that it is important for energy users to be involved in TVA matters and to have their voices heard.
“When we have met with them at the level of their employees, they do take that seriously,” she continued. “I just think the mechanisms are not in place as well as they must be because they are our partners. We all want electricity … but we also want green energy. We don’t want coal ash. We don’t want nuclear power in our backyards. But, we have to see those entities (TVA) and make them our partners.”
Numerous attendees seemed to agree that they desire to be a part of the process but felt like it was sometimes difficult to communicate with TVA members. They also agreed that educating the public on TVA, energy production, energy consumption and the variety of available energy sources could be a step in the right direction. One attendee noted that public meetings held by TVA are often filled with technical jargon and do not seem accessible to the general public. She noted that changing this aspect of the public meetings could help ensure that the public does understand the aforementioned topics.
What would an ideal energy future look like, and what needs to change to get there?In regard to the group’s vision for the future, all agreed that they want to see more clean energy.
However, one attendee noted that “if something is going to be changed in the future, it has to start changing earlier than the future to prepare for it.”
One attendee specifically noted that he hopes coalfired power plants no longer exist by 2025 and that 50 percent of all energy comes from renewable resources by 2030. He also advocated for a money to be allocated annually towards energy efficiency support for cash-poor families.
Another argued that a carbon buyback program, like the one promoted by the Citizens Climate Lobby and explained at https://citizensclimatelobby.org/basics-carbon-fee-dividend/ could help encourage citizens towards renewable energy and away from the use of fossil fuels.
“As you work down your own use of electricity, you get a reward for it that is monetary and shows up on your tax return,” she said. “This money would come from the federal government.”
How does coal mining factor into the equation?Members of the gathered group also addressed the controversy surrounding the move away from coal and the resulting elimination of coalmining jobs.
“Appalachian State University has a program to train solar technicians and wind technicians right now because it seems as if the balance is shifting already,” one attendee noted. “Getting those new skillsets is important in order to change and create jobs.”
“There are also places such as some technical schools that are teaching students how to build wind turbines,” another added. “These people get out of two-year degree programs and can sometimes start at around $50,00 a year.”
One attendee countered, explaining that “this would employee a few people, but it wouldn’t employee the thousands who work in the coal industry.”
Meyers also noted that “the coal industry itself has already displaced so many workers via automation, and mountain top removal requires far fewer workers than traditional coal mining. If there’s one thing, the coal industry isn’t very pro-worker itself.”
Another attendee also explained that reallocating government funds could go a long way towards a move away from coalfired power while helping to employee coal miners in other avenues.
“The coal industry, for instance, has been heavily subsidized by the government,” she said. “One thing that we can advocate for is that some of these subsidies and moneys be shifted to subsidize other work, other technology, other training. It’s just a matter of shifting the funds into renewable energy or any type of industry that would benefit the people, communities, and the work environment. It’s a matter of the people, and that’s what we’re all doing here.”
At the end of the event, attendees were asked to fill out evaluation forms and add any extra input that wasn’t discussed during the event. The input gathered from the Energy Democracy Tour will be shared with TVA at the end of the tour. At that time, the entities who created the Energy Democracy Tour will work together with TVA employees to address the findings.