Energy Detectives Program teaches kids how to conserve resources

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A $723,000 federal grant doesn't just pay for public outreach. Among other things, Clark County has conducted more than 500 free energy inspections of homes with forced-air furnaces. More than 80 percent of homes have qualified for repair incentives.

For more information, go to Planet Clark and click on "duct testing." Or call Steve Alexander at 360-397-2375 ext. 4752.

A $723,000 federal grant doesn’t just pay for public outreach. Among other things, Clark County has conducted more than 500 free energy inspections of homes with forced-air furnaces. More than 80 percent of homes have qualified for repair incentives.

For more information, go to Planet Clark and click on “duct testing.” Or call Steve Alexander at 360-397-2375 ext. 4752.

One of the first questions Mike Selig posed Tuesday prompted approximately 40 hands to shoot up into the air: “Has anyone heard anyone in their family complain about gas prices?”

Selig nodded.

“We have a big energy challenge in our country,” Selig, Clark County’s energy efficiency program coordinator, told two classes of fifth-graders at Columbia Valley Elementary School in east Vancouver.

And for the next 30 minutes, “we’re going to do an energy investigation,” Selig said, before starting into a presentation that covered energy basics — what is it, where it comes from and why it’s important to conserve it.

The 11 a.m. “Energy Detectives” presentation was his second of the day; he’d earlier given the talk to the other two fifth-grade classes at Columbia Valley.

At the end, students received a certificate proclaiming them a “Certified Energy Detective,” a trained agent of Clark County Energy Efficiency Services.

Also, they got to view their classmates’ faces through a thermal imager, create energy with a hand-crank generator and examine a solar panel.

About 800 students have been certified as energy detectives through Selig’s program, which was developed with Tom Archer, who oversees the science curriculum for Evergreen Public Schools. Selig worked with Evergreen district teachers to ensure his presentation fits with what fifth-graders learn about energy.

Selig, who has been doing the presentations for about three months, will soon meet with officials from Vancouver Public Schools to see if they would like “Energy Detectives.”

Selig said he can modify the material to fit Vancouver’s curriculum.

The program counts as part of the public outreach Selig has been doing with a $723,000 federal grant the county received in 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant pays for other county programs, including free home energy audits, about a $300 value.

Seeing the point

Teacher Amanda Vincent said Selig’s talk helps students see the practical applications of what she’s been teaching.

For example, Selig showed pictures of energy-using appliances and devices — including a refrigerator, oven and a television — then pointed to a picture of a PlayStation 3.

“What’s this one?” asked Selig, acting confused.

“P.S. 3!” students shouted back.

One way to conserve a ton of energy, Selig suggested, would be to stop using all of those devices. Could we do that?

“Nooooo,” came the group response.

“It’s going to work,” said one boy, “but it’s going to ruin my life.”

Selig went on to explain our local main source of electricity, Bonneville Dam, and the benefits of hydroelectric power. He also described how solar panels and wind generators work and why those are renewable energy sources, compared to nonrenewable sources such as nuclear and coal-fired plants.

Renewable, nonpolluting energy is great, Selig told the students, but it produces only 8 percent of our energy.

“How else can we generate energy?” he asked.

A girl said she can walk or ride her bike to places that are near her home, rather than being driven there by a parent.

“So are you using energy or saving?” Selig asked.

“Saving,” she said.

Another girl said people should live in small towns, like she did when she lived in Florida. “I could bike to anything,” she said.

Selig encouraged the students, as trained energy detectives, to talk to their parents and figure out ways to save energy:

• Check to make sure doors and windows are shut.

• Turn off lights when you leave a room.

• Unplug chargers when you’re not using them.

• Take quick showers.

He showed a picture of a compact fluorescent light bulb and asked how many of them had seen one in their homes. About 10 hands went up.

The bulbs are big energy savers, he said.

Dave Cone, the school district’s resource conservation manager, watched Selig’s presentation.

“I loved it,” he said. Cone recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he accepted an Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award from the Environmental Protection

Agency on the district’s behalf.

Evergreen’s conservation program has lowered the district’s energy bills by $1.7 million annually and has saved the district $5.2 million since November 2008, and the district is one of three in the nation to receive the honor among about 20,000 participating organizations.

Cone said while Selig encouraged the students to share the information with their parents, he hopes the presentations will get school employees brainstorming how to further reduce energy needs.

“It is a great partnership for us,” Cone said.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.