Energy is complex"conserving it isn’t |

Energy is complex"conserving it isn’t

Matt Terrell
eagle county correspondent

VAIL ‹ What are the most important things a sixth grader can learn about


Some of it’s clean. Some of it’s not. It’s best to use less of it.

Students from Minturn Middle School are spending weeks learning about energy

‹ how it’s made, where it comes from, how it makes its way from the power

plant to their X-Box, how it effects the environment, and how to conserve

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Their studies involve a lot of complicated things that many adults don’t

understand ‹ like wind offsets and electric grids ‹ but it all boils down to

teaching them to be aware of what they’re using, said Innes Isom, science

teacher at Minturn Middle School.

And it’s not as black and white as “burning coal is bad” and “renewable

energy is good,” Isom said. Students are starting to see that burning coal

causes more pollution, but it’s also cheap and efficient. Wind energy might

be clean, but it’s also more expensive.

“We want them to be able to weigh the pros and cons of each of the ways we

make and use energy so they can make responsible choices,” Isom said.

To put things in perspective, the students took a field trip to Vail

Mountain to learn about how much energy it takes to run a ski resort

compared to their own homes, and how investing in wind energy can clean up

the environment.

Luke Cartin, environmental coordinator for Vail Resorts, used buckets of

water and cups to demonstrate how an electric grid works, and how wind

energy can clean up an otherwise polluted system.

Cartin placed one large bucket in the center of a room, representing the

electric grid. Then a groups of students were each given a bucket of colored

water, each representing one of the ways we produce electricity ‹ like

burning coal, the main way local energy provider Holy Cross Energy creates


Students dipped plastic cups in their water buckets and raced to dump water

in the “grid bucket,” which quickly turned a sickly greenish color.

Then there was the bucket representing wind energy, which doesn’t require

burning fossil fuels to create, and didn’t have any coloring. It looked


So when the students started putting more clear water from the wind bucket

into the grid bucket, the water looked less green and murky. That’s why many

people, like Vail Resorts, are buying wind energy, he said.

“It’s a little cleaner than it was before,” Cartin said.

Cartin also had the students guess how much energy it takes to power a hair

dryer for five hours, as well as a television, a computer, their home, and

finally, a ski resort, and all five ski resorts operated by Vail Resorts.

For visual effect, the students had to scoop out spoonfuls of rice onto a

plate, each spoonful representing about 500 watts.

“How much energy would you use for 5 hours of computer time?” Cartin asked


The answer was about 3,000 watts. Some students had platefuls of rice,

others just a couple scoops.

Using the same scale, it would take several busfuls of rice to represent how

much power Vail Resorts uses, Cartin told them.

In the end, they learned, no matter how clean the grid is, it’s even better

when people cut down their energy use. Students were able to think of

several ways to conserve energy, like turning off lights, turning off the

television, playing outside, and turning down the thermostat at night.

As they left, each of the students received a parting gift ‹ a compact

florescent light bulb that uses less energy and lasts longer than standard


Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or