The Gospel According to Jerry

The cause of people opposed to building a new power plant in Woodfin was hardly dignified by two punk kids who illegally climbed a billboard and vandalized private property.

I certainly understand that many of us are very frustrated with our national energy policy, which does not promote conservation or reduce the use of fossil fuels. We know our president blew a golden opportunity after 9/11 to make an enormous and lasting difference in our energy use.

In the aftermath of that terrible tragedy, every American was upset and looking for direction as to what we could do as individuals to fight back against these terrorists. Our president should have launched a campaign to encourage every American to reduce their energy consumption 10 percent by making very slight lifestyle changes. He should have brought in the best public-relations people to mobilize all Americans as soldiers in the war on terror. Country singers, rock stars, Hollywood celebrities, famous athletes and politicians could have been the national spokespersons to encourage these small sacrifices.

We should have been bombarded with television commercials appealing to our patriotism and urging us to car-pool once a week, turn our thermostats down slightly in the winter and up in the summer, cut down on unnecessary trips to the store, and make energy conservation mandatory at both the federal and state levels.

To get everyone in the conservation spirit, there should have been bumper stickers, flags, T-shirts and plaques stating, “I am contributing to the war against terror by saving on energy.” It would have been a huge success—especially once the public realized that it was cutting their energy costs and that gas and oil prices were going down instead of up.

We would have made the point that by denying our dollars to the oil-producing Arab countries, we were crippling their ability to mount a campaign against us. It would also have reduced our budget deficit and balance of payments.

Instead, our president sent our bravest and finest young people into a futile war under false pretenses and told the American people to go shopping while he raised the rebates on gas-guzzling vehicles. Do we need to be reminded that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are oil men, and that reduction in consumption is bad for business?

When it comes to the oil-burning power plant proposed for a portion of the former Buncombe County landfill site in Woodfin, however, we need to understand that this is an emergency generator, just like the ones at Mission Hospitals. When the power supply is reduced or goes out, the generator comes on. I’m sure no one would like to have their appendix removed by candlelight during a power emergency.

Power-plant opponents have suggested using conservation measures and alternatives such as wind and solar generators instead. The problem is that our current technology produces a steady stream of new devices, helping ensure that our energy use continues to escalate. My computer has so many wires coming out that it looks like Medusa, because I continue to add printers, fax machines, phones, chargers etc.

I think many Americans are trying to reduce their energy consumption, but they’re not convinced by the self-righteous eco-freaks who live in mud huts, burn corn shucks, read by oil lamps and eschew automobiles in favor of a bicycle. Most of us don’t want to go back to the Stone Age.

When I was young, we heated the house with coal and banked the furnace every night. There was no air conditioning.  Electricity was primarily for lighting and a few small appliances, and if the boiler went out in the schoolhouse, we were told to put on our coats and suck it up.

Try that in our modern public schools. Today’s society is totally designed around the use of electricity, particularly for heating and cooling; we can’t live without a reliable supply of it. Progress Energy has been given notice that the company that had been guaranteeing a supplemental power supply during periods of peak demand will no longer do so.

This doesn’t leave Progress Energy with a lot of options. While wind power and solar energy are attractive substitutes under normal circumstances, we can’t depend on the wind to blow or the sun to shine in order to prevent the power grid from shutting down when the temperature plunges to 12 below or soars to 100 degrees, as sometimes happens in our area.

All that conservation won’t mean a thing if there’s no power to turn on that little compact-fluorescent light.

Besides losing power to our homes, our factories and offices will also be shut down. Some members of the rabid opposition have publicly suggested that it might be a good idea to have brownouts to teach us all a lesson. It might come as a surprise to these members of the wealth-and-leisure class that there are many people in our area who depend on paychecks to support their families. We can hardly afford to gamble with people’s livelihoods in order to satisfy an intransigent philosophy.

The opposition has further castigated the county commissioners for leasing this 78-acre tract to Progress Energy for $1 per year. Although the the plant is virgin land, it will be suspect for many years, because contaminated ground water might migrate from the adjacent former landfill.

Considering that the county will receive property taxes and reduced annual maintenance costs totaling $275,000 per year while helping ensure that county residents have access to an essential service, I think they’ve cut a pretty good deal.

And if those opponents turned their negative energy into positive energy by encouraging the public to use alternatives and conservation, with a little help from Mother Nature the operator of this plant might be like the Maytag man and never get a phone call to fire up the plant.

[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at]


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