Note: This story originally appeared in the Energy Services Bulletin for June 2012.
Winning the America’s Home Energy Education Challenge was a big victory for the students of Carter County, Mont., and Western is proud to have played a small role in the team’s success through our customer Southeast Electric Cooperative.
Southeast Electric Member Services Rep. Marlene Waterland shows students from Hawks Home School the different types of light bulbs on the lighting display, borrowed from Western’s Equipment Loan Program. (Photo by Southeast Electric Cooperative)
Teaching energy awareness
The team of five schools split a prize of $15,000 for tracking and reducing home energy use over three months. The Department of Energy created the national school competition to educate students and their families about the opportunities to save money by saving energy. Teams of third through eighth grade students worked with their science teachers and local utility companies to develop energy savings plans that reduce the amount of energy used to power their homes.
Marlene Waterland of Southeast Electric coordinated the program for Alzada Elementary School, Carter County High School, Ekalaka Elementary School, Hammond School and Hawks Home School. Using a lighting efficiency display and infrared cameras from Western’s Equipment Loan Program, the member services representative introduced students to different ways of thinking about energy waste and efficiency. “The displays are excellent teaching tools that we couldn’t afford otherwise,” Waterland said.
“It was great to be able to help Southeast Electric Cooperative and Marlene inspire these kids to apply their math and science skills to a real-life problem—how to save money by using energy efficiently at home,” said Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann.
Showing and telling
One of Western’s most popular educational tools, the lighting display shows how new technology can save energy using equipment everyone has in their homes—light bulbs. The new lighting display incorporates lamps that may still be unfamiliar to consumers. “A lot of our customers are still trying to adjust to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs),” Waterland admitted. “It helps for them to see the different Kelvin ratings, and learn that they can buy brighter lights.”
The long-lasting cold cathode bulb, which is designed to be used outdoors in cold temperatures, also peaked student interest. “They could see how it could be useful for saving energy specifically in Montana,” said Waterland.
Southeast Electric Cooperative frequently borrows Western’s IR cameras to perform free home energy audits for its customers. Using the tool to teach 7th and 8th graders about energy losses gave Waterland the chance to do a “commercial” for Southeast’s free home energy audit program. She also took the camera to another school in the utility’s territory that wasn’t participating in the Challenge. “I try to schedule as many appointments and events as possible when I have Western equipment checked out,” she explained.
She walked the students of the small country school through a preliminary energy audit, showing them how the camera worked and what to look for. During the audit, the students discovered that a furnace filter had not been properly installed, so they were able to correct a problem.
All talents welcomed
The students of Carter County School District turned out to be quick—and creative—studies. They talked to their family members about energy- and money-saving steps they could take, including turning off the lights when leaving the room and running the laundry machine with cooler water and full loads. In an agricultural community, using timers for engine block heaters for tractors turned out to be a big saver.
It wasn’t only what the students did, but how they did it that earned them the award. Some students went right for the dollars and cents, Waterland recalled. “Southeast publishes fact sheets that give the monthly costs for running appliances, and they put those to good use,” she said. “You could see how the project pushed them to apply their math skills.”
Others applied their imagination to energy planning, with one sixth grade class writing fiction stories about saving energy. The national competition included a poster contest that gave artistically inclined students a way to encourage their families and communities to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Southeast awarded its own prize of $50 for the best local poster.
To sharpen the local competition, Southeast also offered a $100 prize to the family that saved the most energy during the competition. “Of the 49 students participating, 20 families reduced their energy use, and the winner saved 41 percent,” Waterland said. “The family told us that their daughter ran around the house every night unplugging everything.”
Winning America’s Home Energy Education Challenge required focus, teamwork and long hours—and not just from the students. “It was demanding competition and the teachers were really good at keeping everyone on task,” said Waterland.
Waterland considers the 177 hours she spent coordinating the schools’ participation a worthwhile investment. “Southeast is a relatively small utility—only 900 customers and 2,000 meters—and we all support the community,” she explained. “Winning this competition is a source of pride for everyone.”
But the prize is more than just hometown pride, or even $15,000. It’s seeing students get excited about using math and science, and discovering creative ways to apply new skills. It’s teaching young people and their families to treat energy as the valuable resource to be used thoughtfully. And it’s preparing tomorrow’s consumers to work as partners with their utilities. “A student called me recently to find out whether it costs more to run a computer or a toaster, so they are still exploring how to save energy,” Waterland said. “There will be another competition, and these kids will be ready for it.”
Western customers can borrow educational displays—or other tools—from our Equipment Loan Program free of charge. You pay only for return shipping. Reserve your equipment online, or call Gary Hoffmann at 720-962-7420.