Whenever I watch the evening news, read a newspaper or listen to special interest groups, I can’t help but recall a joke I heard many years ago. It goes like this:
“A man had agreed to be baptized. The setting was on a beach with the tide rolling in. Per their custom, the minister and his assistant dipped the guy beneath the waves, then raised him back up. ‘Do you believe?’ they cried. Choking on a mouthful of seawater, the convert couldn’t answer, so he was dipped again… and again… and again. Each time he was lifted from the water, he was asked, ‘Do you believe?’ Eventually, the poor fellow could take it no more. Gasping for air, he managed to croak, ‘Yes, I believe. I believe you are trying to drown me!’”
The man in this story seemed to have the facts to justify his response: Underwater, he had every reason to believe he was drowning. But was he right? As for what this old joke has to do with power generation and energy policy, it’s a matter of “facts.” Are we really getting them?
It seems to me that some information distributed by the news media may be a bit misleading. I’m annoyed when I hear people condemn coal and nuclear power-generation, especially when they preface their statements with “I was watching the news last night…” Unfortunately, many in the public tend to believe everything they read, hear and see coming out of various news outlets.
Historical case in point
Just focusing on the energy industry, some readers may remember the Three Mile Island incident (1979).When the event occurred, what was reported on and televised? Not the containment building. All eyes were on the natural-draft cooling tower—which continued to function, discharging harmless steam to the atmosphere.
To this day, people still gaze in horror at the natural-draft cooling towers used at certain nuclear plants, believing that they are actually emitting radiation. (The China Syndrome movie only compounded the issue, since countless people also tend to believe everything they see in a theater.)
Let’s consider ‘clean coal’
The term “clean coal” was not intended to be taken literally, but rather to be a differentiator from conventional coal-fired technology. I’m sure the coal industry doesn’t mind the misunderstanding, but environmentalists seem to have a problem with it. To get a real taste of the level of emotion created by “clean coal,” do an internet search. The comments from both sides of the fence are amazing.
Some of you may have seen an interview with the CEO of a large coal company on the evening news recently, in which the statement was made that the coal industry has experienced some problems. What industry hasn’t? The following portion of the interview is what really caught my attention, though:
“Coal represents today 40% of America’s energy, and frankly, it’s been one of the fuels that has created the level of economic prosperity we enjoy in this country, and why we’d want to turn our backs on such a fuel absolutely defies logic in many respects.”
. . . Alpha Natural Resources CEO Kevin Crutchfield
Mr. Crutchfield was being accurate in his remarks—and rather neutral on the idea that coal should not be the only fuel source for power generation, but instead be part of a reasonable balance of multiple fuel sources. Sadly, as one might expect, his message was taken out of context and lambasted by some sources.
Here’s my point
Public sentiment, driven by incorrect or piecemeal information, has played a role in creating a nightmare for today’s power industry, not to mention for our economic recovery. Distribution of inaccurate information can only add fuel to the fire and dollars to our electric bills. UM
Bill Livoti is Power-Generation Business Development Manager for WEG Electric Corp. and Electric Machinery Co., Inc.