Going to the Source: Helping Central Kentuckians Understand the Basis of Their Energy Supply

Thanks to funding from the Department for Energy Development and Independence, Bluegrass Greensource is offering FREE coal education again this year!

There has been much in the news about energy issues, such as “clean coal”, and mountain top removal mining. Bluegrass Greensource continues to educate Kentucky’s students about this important topic for their future, teaching the positive and negative aspects of using coal. Today’s students are our future leaders, and they need this knowledge to make informed decisions today and in the future.

This energy education program will begin with a two day energy tour for teachers.  BGGS educators will follow-up with a minimum of four classroom lessons on energy resources.  Ten schools will receive funding to take their students on an energy related field trip.  There is no cost to the school to participate in any part of the program.

For more information contact:
Pattie Stivender
Education Coordinator
Bluegrass Greensource


Going to the Source: Helping Central Kentuckians Understand the Basis of Their Energy Supply

There has been much in the news about energy issues, such as “clean coal” and mountain top removal mining. We will continue to educate Kentucky’s students about this important topic for their future, teaching them about both the positive and negative aspects of using coal. As future leaders, today’s students need to be knowledgeable so they can make informed decisions in their lives today and in the future.

Greensource’s environmental educators will work with 25 teachers to teach a series of experiential classroom activities, each aligned to Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards (KCAS). These activities will help students learn about coal’s role in the economies of Kentucky and the nation, the historical and cultural aspects of coal production, and the environmental challenges related to the production and use of coal. The activities will also enable students to explore the feasibility of alternative energy resources and their role in meeting the energy needs of Kentucky and the nation and the importance of conservation and energy efficiency in offsetting the rising demands of energy in KY.

A minimum of four classroom activities will be conducted for each participating teacher’s classes. Topics for these activities include alternative energy sources and the impacts of coal on Kentucky’s culture, economy, and environment.

Program Highlights:

The program consists of two components:

All participating Classrooms:

Experiential education in classrooms – Four classroom lessons aligned to KY educational standards


Elementary School Classrooms:

Field trip for students to coal and/or energy facilities

Middle and High School Classrooms:

Energy discussion and job fair to be held at Transylvania University in May 2015

For more information about this FREE Educational opportunity contact:

Pattie Stivender, Education Coordinator

Phone: 859-266-1572

E-mail: pattie@bggreensource.org

Funding for this program is provided by the Department for Energy Development and Independence.

DEDI Black type no tag


Coal as Energy Tour gives local educators look inside flipping the light switch

A group of educators tour TECO Coal in Hazard on the Coal for Energy Tour. (Photo provided)

A group of educators tour TECO Coal in Hazard on the Coal as Energy Tour.

I was fortunate enough to go on a Bluegrass Greensource Coal as Energy Tour, recently, with educators from the Bluegrass Region. The tour is intended to broaden teacher’s knowledge of potential energy sources and provide a balanced and fair view of each resource.

The two-day tour (offered free to educators) definitely broadened all participants’ knowledge of the complex processes involved in the simple act of flipping a light switch.

The first day of the tour was packed full of information and featured stops at Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies, Berea College’s Ecovillage, Berea Utilities Solar Farm, Berea’s Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum.  We spent the night in Benham, Ky. at the School House Inn (which is rumored to be haunted).

The next morning we got up bright and early for a deep mine tour at TECO Coal Company in Hazard.

The deep mine tour at the TECO coal mine was the most memorable stop for me. After watching a two-hour safety training and donning coveralls, steel-toed boots, safety glasses, identification tag and safety belts with a SRU (self rescuer unit), we headed toward the entrance of the mine.

The foreman showed us a map of the mine and the three-mile path we would be taking into the side of a mountain in order to see the heart of the mining operation. Our one-hour journey to the mining site involved a 700-foot trip down in a slope car, followed by a 40-minute ride in a “man trip” (an open-air bumpy rail car), and a ride down a muddy hill in a similar diesel-powered contraption.

Traveling down, I could feel the ventilation system pushing air through the mine – a constant stream of cold. Once we reached the end of our journey through the wet, cave-like tunnel, we saw the real work-horse of today’s mining operation – the Continuous Miner. This giant machine is like a large steam roller with hundreds of drill bits that cuts through walls of coal at an extraordinary speed.

I watched a car fill up with 15 tons of coal in less than one minute. At the same time the coal is being mined, hundreds of gallons of water are being pumped onto the mining site to keep the coal dust under control.

We then walked through the mud and rock dust, ducking our heads as we went, to see the most dangerous job in modern coal mining – the roof bolters. The roof bolters go into areas that have just been mined to secure the ceiling. Every few feet the roof bolters must drill deep into the rock (not knowing what they might find while drilling) to mount the bolts that will allow the Continuous Miner to go forward and allow miners to walk into a new part of the mine. These roof bolts also provide the safety and support needed to prevent tons of rock falling and crushing a miner.

As we started to travel out, we also saw the conveyer that takes the coal out of the mine and the small break room (a hole in the rock) with a much-welcomed heater. The trip out took just as long as the trip in and was twice as cold, since we were traveling against the stream of the ventilation system.

We only spent three hours total in the mine, but the experience is something I will never forget. There are men and women that spend 10 hours in this mine every day doing this work to support their families, and they deserve our respect.

This entire Coal as Energy Tour gave me a new perspective and expanded my knowledge of energy in Kentucky. All of the educators I spoke with on the tour had nothing but great things to say about the experience. One teacher even praised the tour stating it was “one of the best, educational, thought-provoking tours, as an educator, I have taken in 25 years of teaching.”

Not only is the tour a great educational and personal development opportunity for teachers; all teachers who go on the tour receive funding for an energy related field trip for their students and help from the Bluegrass Greensource educators on energy based lesson plans and activities.

If you are a teacher and are interested in going on our next Coal as Energy Tour, please contact Pattie Stivender at pattie@bggreensource.org or call 859-266-1572.

Ashley photo

Ashley Bryant Cheney is the Green Jobs Coordinator for Bluegrass Greensource, connecting green businesses with a young workforce and preparing students for green careers in the Bluegrass. From Knoxville, she’s worked in volunteer and program management at various nonprofits. She has a bachelor’s in Psychology from Carson-Newman University and a master’s in Urban Studies and Community Development from Eastern University.


Winter’s return reminds us that being energy efficient is as important as ever

We had snow this week! In November! OK, maybe it wasn’t much snow, but any snow in November is special. As a result of that touch of snow, accompanied by super cold temperatures, I am especially enjoying cuddling under blankets by the fire. The problem is, it’s much earlier this year than last, and I am a bit worried about our heating bill for the next four months.

Because this is Kentucky, and the weather can change at a moment’s notice, I am sure that before winter is officially here, we will have warmer days, maybe even record-breaking temps. But for now, I am once again concerned with keeping my house warm.

Here is my confession: I am the director of an (incredible!) environmental nonprofit, but my house is extremely energy inefficient. I have not found a support group for me yet, but maybe this article can help me find one.

In my defense, my husband and I have worked very hard since moving in to do what we can to save energy. In fact, in 2010 we had a comprehensive energy analysis done by both our utility and an independent contractor to try to figure out what our options are. We spent about $1,000 in insulation, a new door to our attic crawl space, duct sealing and various miscellaneous updates to seal our house. We also spent about 1,000 hours (and less than $30) caulking every inch we could reach.

Our house was built as a cabin in 1979, and until just before we moved in, it did not have central heat or air. We obviously have an uphill battle. But, after doing all of the work mentioned above, we started to see a real difference in our utility bills. Kentucky Utilities prints the average outside temperature and the number of kilowatt hours of electricity you use each month. Using this, we were able to compare our pre- and post-efficiency retrofits electricity bills for months with the same average temperature. They showed that we saved $200 in one month. This is GREAT news!

Kentucky Utilities has recently started sending updates on its customer’s energy usage as it relates to similar homes in the area. Ours is always higher than our neighbors, so I know we are not finished on our quest.

The last two winters have been relatively mild, so, to be honest, our own big energy efficiency push has waned. But the last few days have reminded me that we have a lot more work to do.

The first thing I am going to do is to see where we left off. Bluegrass Greensource purchased self-energy audit kits (through a grant from LFUCG) and gave them to the Lexington Public Libraries so anyone with a library card can check them out. They include the following:

• Laser thermometer to find areas that are letting the cold air in
• Fridge thermometer to make sure your fridge is not using more energy than needed
• Kill-O-Watt meter to see how much “vampire” energy your appliances and cell phones chargers are using when you don’t need them
• Foot Candle meter to see if you could use less light throughout your house
• Instant read thermometer to make sure your hot water heater not hotter than the recommended 120 degrees

The library kits are completely free, but as the temperature drops, there can be a significant waiting list so act quickly!

If you are really involved in finding air leaks in your house (or just like cool gadgets), you can come to the Bluegrass Greensource office to check out a real infrared camera. This will give you an amazing visual of cold areas in your home (or heat escaping if you look at your house from the outside). The infrared camera is also free, but we do require a $35 fully refundable deposit.

The library kits come with a comprehensive “What Now” guide. So if you find that your attic hatch is leaking conditioned air, there is a how to guide to fix it. Or if you find that your electrical sockets are leaky, there are step-by-step instructions on fixing them.

But if you are not the do-it-yourself type, or you feel that the job may be beyond your skill level, we recommend getting an official energy analysis done by local professionals. KyHomePerformance.org has a list of certified contractors to choose from and can even offer financing to help with bigger jobs. Utility companies can also offer audits for little to no charge, but there is often a long waiting list.

As a starting point, check out the energy efficiency information here. You can find information on tax incentives, rebates and useful tips for home energy savings. Also, look for residential energy efficiency workshops from Bluegrass Greensource coming soon.

I know that I will never have an Energy Star-rated home, but I am happy that I am learning things along the way to energy efficiency that I can pass along to others that may be able to get that distinction. In the meantime, I will turn my thermostat down as far as I can handle, and do a lot of cuddling!

1 Amy-Sohner

Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.


This article appeared in KY Forward on November 14, 2013.


Energy Tour Energizes Teachers

Energy Tour Photo

“One of the best, educational, thought provoking tours I have taken in 25 years of teaching,” said one teacher after having participated in Bluegrass Greensource’s fourth annual energy tour, sponsored by the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence.

Teachers from Central Kentucky joined BGGS for two days of touring sites related to renewable and nonrenewable energy.  The tour gave teachers firsthand experience with a variety of energy resources and facilities and deepened their knowledge of the content they are teaching for the Next Generation Standards.

Dr. Bruce Pratt of Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies started the tour with an overview of energy sources used to produce electricity, and the pros and cons of each.  Harlan County High School was a popular stop on the tour with its renewable energy features.  The school has incorporated many high performance energy features, such as:  day lighting, geothermal HVAC, energy recovery units, low-E insulating glazing, occupancy sensors on lighting, high efficiency lighting, and light colored roofing.

Teachers also learned about coal extraction while touring TECO Coal in Hazard.  After a training session, teachers were taken into a deep mine shaft and had the opportunity to view the mining process firsthand.  The history and impact of the coal industry in Harlan County was highlighted during a Kentucky Coal Mine Museum tour led by retired miner Al Feher.

The tour is intended to broaden teachers’ knowledge of energy-related topics while providing a balanced and unbiased view of each resource.

During this school year, Greensource Educators will be working with each teacher who participated in the tour to offer energy lessons and plan energy related field trips for their students.  For more information, contact Pattie Stivender at pattie@bgGreensource.org.


Popular Energy Tour is Back

Coal Tour

Calling all Central Kentucky Teachers who are interested in learning and teaching about Kentucky’s energy sources!  Our popular Energy Tour is coming soon and we want you to join us on October 24-25th.  But space is limited so teachers must sign up as soon as you can.

Thanks to funding provided by the Department of Energy Development and Independence (DEDI), we are able to offer this two-day tour to Central KY teachers to highlight Kentucky’s developing alternative energy technologies as well as traditional energy sources.  One day will be spent touring EKU’s Center for Renewable & Alternative Fuel Technologies (CRAFT), Berea College’s Ecovillage, a Berea solar farm and the KY Coal Mine Museum.  The second day will be spent in the Teco Mine in Hazard.  Yes, we said “IN” the Teco mine where you will experience first-hand deep earth mining and learn about coal extraction surface mining techniques.  Finally, a panel discussion will cover the advantages and disadvantages of different energy technologies.

As a follow-up to the tour, our environmental educators will host a series of classroom lessons for tour participants about the history of coal in Kentucky, extraction techniques of coal and alternative energies.  Additionally, participating teachers will have the opportunity to schedule an energy related field trip for their classroom.

If you are a Central Kentucky teacher and interested in joining us, please email Pattie Stivender at pattie@bgGreensource.org for more detail information.