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What will energy production look like in 50 years? Blowing smoke

November 2, 2017

What will energy production look like in 50 years? Blowing smoke

On Reddish Knob in 1982, when Michelle was about 16 months old.

We gazed at the two chimneys blowing white smoke which we had seen from a distance for many years, the infamous chimneys of the Mt. Storm power plant in West Virginia.

Ever since he learned that on a really clear day we could see those puffs of smoke from a favorite drive up a local mountain, Reddish Knob, my husband had wanted to check out Mt. Storm sometime. He was always fascinated that from the top of our nearby mountain (at 4397 feet) we can see almost all the way to western Maryland (about 100 miles) or southern Pennsylvania, if the atmosphere is extremely clear.

So on a recent weekend, we drove to Mt. Storm. We also went in hunt of fall color and space to unwind from a very busy, over-scheduled week. We didn’t find much of the former but plenty of just chillin’ on a non-programmed schedule. A Sabbath day.

I don’t think I had truly grasped that this was a coal power plant until I saw the conveyers connecting to nearby coal mines or at least transport docks. I recalled my mixed feelings living in the midst of strip mines in eastern Kentucky–knowing that was what the people depended on for jobs and for low cost energy.

Also near Mt. Storm—mixing the 1800s and 2000s—are giant wind turbines generating electricity from two ridges where wind is plentiful. Neither form of energy is de rigueur for environmentalists—unless the wind turbines are off shore, where they supposedly kill or maim fewer birds.

If you do a bit of research on that issue, it seems to me the verdict is mixed. Here are three links that rose to the top. I left the complete urls visible so you can get a sense of their gist.

Here also is a link straight to Mt. Storm electrical plant. It was built in the 60s and in the first years truly was dirty—emitting flying ash with asbestos pollution in the immediate community. After we came home, we learned that the lake stays warmish (seldom below 60 degrees) year round from the fact that its water is totally sucked up to cool the turbines in the plant, and then deposited back in the lake every 2.5 days. Had I known that, I might have wandered down to water’s edge to see what it felt like. Not sure I’d want to swim or eat fish out of that lake though.

This was the same weekend we hosted a “solar open house” at our home, and enjoyed chatting with an interested visitor. Solar of course is among the cleaner of the energy producing industries, and the industry is addressing concerns about the energy needed to make solar panels, and recycling them down the line after their life span is over (20-25 years?).

Pipelines for gas. Coal mines. Nuclear plants. Power from water. Power from
the wind. Solar. All of the forms of generating power for our electrical needs and wants, have drawbacks. You can hear people arguing for or against any of the above. Blowin’ smoke.

My mixed feelings come from the modern reality we live with: we are so tied to our electricity demands. My husband—even though our electric bills are now practically peanuts (after going solar), still is an energy miser, always reminding me to turn off this or that light and keeping our thermostat set low in the winter and high in the summer. As I write this, it is November 1—the day the heat was turned on in our boarding house in Barcelona, Spain, no matter how cold it got earlier. Think of those around the world who only have electricity sporadically—or several hours at a time. Or none at all. Amazing we all live on the same earth.

And that’s the bottom line: there is one earth, lots of people; we have to do the best we can to preserve the place as a livable habitat for as long as the earth stands. For our kids and grandkids and great grands and those we’ll never know. Yes?

Photo with two of our grandkids that we had our son-in-law take (solar panels on the roof) for the solar tour website.


Our youngest daughter Doreen, 2016, take a photo from Reddish Knob looking towards West Va. and Mt. Storm.

How do you save energy? How do you wish to do better?

What kind of fuel did your family use growing up?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences or memories here.


From → Faith, Family Life, Nature

  1. Beverly Silver permalink

    Melodie – Thanks! I wish you could have been taking the LLI course I am in – It is fantastic. About Climate Change, let by Dave Pruett and Les Grady. Wow. Will have to tell you about it sometime. EVERY ONE should have access to its material and data. . Beverly

    • Thanks for telling me about it. In a few years I’ll be able to take LLI classes too. And you’re still learning!! Blessings.

  2. At my previous home, I had no electricity. Using kerosene for light is not as efficient as electricity, but I did not use very much. If a million people did it, it would make a lot of pollution for less light. Also, if a million people used fireplaces and stoves for heat, there would be more pollution, and homes would be less comfortable; but it worked for me because the wood was free. I always used less energy simply by living a rather minimalist lifestyle. I grew up with electricity available, but even then, it was respected and used conservatively.

    • Tony, thanks for sharing your experience! I appreciate what you point out about alternatives to electricity sometimes making more pollution than less. I think about that as we use a woodstove for much of the winter–I enjoy the smell of a wood fire, yet it makes smoke too. I admire the minimalist lifestyle but am not quite there. I’ll have to check out your blog and see what I can learn!

      • Oh, my blog is not about minimalism. It is just about horticulture. I just happened to find yours interesting.

  3. We pass through Mt. Storm as we travel between Harrisonburg and Pittsburgh, Melodie. Wish these energy issues had better solutions, but going back to coal is not one of them! We too try to be misers with the thermostat and light switches, but we know that’s not enough. Good for you for going solar.

    • We have used Corridor H or 55 back in that area and traveled to Indiana that way too and of course have seen the wind turbines for many years, but never tracked down the actual lake or power plant, and sometimes wondered about the smoke off in the distance. So it was good to pinpoint it for ourselves. I felt a little like an environmental investigative reporter or something and hoped no one was watching us from a distance taking photos etc. But it is a recreation area so I was probably over-imagining. I have said to people I used to think solar was for radicals or for the rich, and we are not really either, unless you are considering the wider world. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Athanasia permalink

    Our house had a coal furnace up until I was just about 7. We still had a wood burning stove in the kitchen though my grandma used the gas stove. I do remember her using the wood stove though. And I remember the coal being delivered. The coal chute is still at the house and the bin. I know people use the word ton all the time so that it is meaningless, like they picked a ton of tomatoes but I think the coal actually was delivered by the ton. I remember the sound of it pouring down the chute. After that the furnace was replaced with a natural gas furnace , must have been 1968.

  5. Your experiences with coal are very similar to mine! I remember coal being delivered and going down the chute to the basement. I remember the smell of it–not bad, but yes, then we got a gas furnace somewhere in the late 50s or early 60s. Love your stories and the perspectives we often share. You must be catching up with comments this early morning!

    • Athanasia permalink

      Yes, wake up earlier again now with the lighter mornings. I don’t care for daylight savings….it is too dark too early now.

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