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  • Male Narrator: Americans used to rely on animal power

  • for transportation and to carry goods from place to place.

  • And oil from whales to light our evenings.

  • Today it's gasoline and motor vehicles, and vast amounts

  • of electricity to light our cities and power our economy.

  • But one study claims that Americans

  • spend just six minutes a year focusing on energy.

  • The American public does not like

  • to think about its energy use.

  • The one place Americans do think about energy use

  • is when they're standing at the pump.

  • Narrator: Global demand makes oil prices rise and fall

  • in response to events beyond our borders

  • and out of our control.

  • We worry about how our economy gets buffeted.

  • And the only way we do something about that

  • is to take into our own hands our destiny.

  • Narrator: In this program, we look at

  • how America uses energy.

  • And we'll meet people like you

  • who are helping their communities

  • find new sustainable resources and save energy.

  • Conservation, energy efficiency,

  • has already been something that the U.S.

  • has had tremendous achievement in.

  • And it is something, as the fifth fuel,

  • that can be very, very important for our future.

  • Narrator: Tapping that fifth fuel can be

  • as challenging as drilling for oil or gas.

  • But powering communities in these new ways

  • also empowers people.

  • We can control the things that go on in our home.

  • We can control the things that go on in our communities.

  • I'm a Republican.

  • What is more conservative than harnessing what is available

  • and around us in a long-term sustainable way?

  • Narrator: Our program's host, earth scientist Richard Alley,

  • knows the dangers of climate change.

  • But he also teaches about energy at Penn State.

  • And he's optimistic that Americans

  • can build a sustainable future.

  • Some states and cities are rolling up their sleeves

  • and moving ahead.

  • These citizens are heroes of America's new energy story

  • and show the way to a sustainable energy future.

  • The good news is we don't have to wait

  • for the national policies.

  • Narrator: Helping ourselves with clean energy

  • is also helping earth's climate.

  • The atmosphere doesn't care one whit what people think.

  • The atmosphere cares what people do.

  • Narrator: We visit five very different communities,

  • from Alaska to Texas, Portland to Baltimore plus Kansas,

  • in America's heartland, to find out how they're developing

  • new sources of energy, or cutting waste,

  • and why strategies like those make sense for all of us.

  • Female Narrator: Energy Quest USA -

  • Earth: The Operators' Manual is made possible by NSF,

  • the National Science Foundation,

  • where discoveries begin.

  • Narrator: Sometimes when Americans hear energy,

  • the next word that comes to mind is crisis.

  • It really doesn't have to be that way.

  • Shirley Jackson, former head

  • of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,

  • and now president of one of America's leading

  • technical universities,

  • thinks the United States is actually well-placed.

  • Well, the U.S. is lucky because

  • we have such a diversity of climates

  • and diversity of geologies and in the end,

  • diversity of actual energy sources.

  • And that, in fact, makes us very fortunate

  • compared to other parts of the world.

  • They may have a given source of energy,

  • but they don't have the multiple sources.

  • Narrator: Alaska, like the rest of America,

  • has been addicted to oil.

  • Now, can abundant sustainable options

  • make it America's renewable state?

  • Kodiak Island, Alaska at 3,600 square miles

  • is about half the size of New Jersey.

  • Getting around almost always involves a boat, or a plane,

  • or a float-plane that's a bit of both.

  • Kodiak's population is less than 14,000,

  • leaving most of the island undeveloped and natural.

  • That beauty is one of Kodiak's economic assets,

  • bringing tourists to watch bears raising cubs

  • and catching fish.

  • Kodiak's human population also catches salmon,

  • with fish exports providing

  • another key source of jobs and income.

  • The island wants to limit imports

  • of dirty and expensive fossil fuels,

  • and tap natural resources to supply as much

  • clean and locally generated energy as possible.

  • Fuel prices, because we live on an island,

  • are very expensive.

  • You know, you learn pretty quickly

  • that you need an alternative.

  • Narrator: Kodiak was the first place in Alaska to make

  • wind power a substantial part of the energy mix,

  • with its three 1.5 megawatt turbines on Pillar Mountain.

  • So getting good quality, low-cost sustainable

  • power is really necessary for the long-term viability

  • of the economy of Alaska.

  • Narrator: Upgrades at the Terror Lake

  • hydro-electric plant, plus plans for three more turbines

  • leave the KEA co-op confident they can hit

  • 95% renewables by 2020.

  • Though Kodiak uses diesel as a backup and during repairs,

  • the wind turbines save the island 800,000 gallons

  • of expensive, imported fuel each year.

  • And this matters to the local business community.

  • This morning, we're offloading pink salmon

  • and red salmon, chum salmon and coho

  • that came from the west side of Kodiak--

  • it keeps us busy, the plants work 24 hours a day,

  • and it's a very, very big industry for Kodiak.

  • Narrator: This processing plant runs

  • 100% on renewable energy, so Kodiak's wind power

  • provides a clean, green marketing hook.

  • The package says, sustainable seafood,

  • produced in Kodiak, Alaska,

  • with wind-generated renewable energy.

  • You got some folks in the community

  • that are really concerned about price.

  • You know, they just want the lowest cost power

  • at their house or at their business.

  • The wind does that.

  • It's less than 50% of the cost of power versus diesel.

  • Then you got folks in the town that are very just,

  • environmentally concerned.

  • And they are incredibly excited,

  • because it's a whole lot cleaner than diesel is.

  • And then you've got the majority of folks who want both,

  • which is great as well.

  • Narrator: Kodiak is a genuine island, surrounded by ocean,

  • but vast areas of interior Alaska

  • are also islands of habitation, small communities

  • surrounded by open country and dense forests.

  • Many have no road access, and the only way to transport

  • heavy fuel is via rivers like the Yukon.

  • Bear Ketzler is city manager of Tanana,

  • a remote and mainly native Alaskan village

  • at the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers.

  • 90% of our bulk freight

  • that comes in, comes by the barge.

  • Narrator: That includes diesel for the power plant

  • and heating oil for homes.

  • Diesel prices increased 83% between 2000 and 2005,

  • and utility costs can sometimes be more than

  • 1/3 of a household's income.

  • The increase of energy costs,

  • it jeopardizes everything.

  • It jeopardizes our school, it really jeopardizes

  • the ability for the city to function effectively.

  • Narrator: Communities like Tanana

  • rely on the river for the fish protein

  • that's a large part of a subsistence diet.

  • And the river also provides

  • a cheap and local source of energy.

  • We have abundant resources of wood, biomass.

  • Wood that floats down the river, in the spring and the fall time.

  • Narrator: Timber is increasingly replacing oil

  • and diesel in Tanana's communal buildings,

  • like the washeteria, a combination laundromat,

  • public showers and water treatment plant.

  • Right now, we don't even need oil,

  • we're just running the whole place

  • off this one wood boiler, which is just amazing.

  • Narrator: Using biomass and solar, the washeteria

  • now uses only one quarter as much heating oil.

  • Instead, the city pays residents to gather

  • sustainable timber, keeping dollars in the local community.

  • And using biomass at the washeteria has proven

  • so cost effective that the city is planning

  • to install boilers in other public buildings.

  • Bear: We're going to be one of the first communities

  • on Yukon River that is installing

  • a biomass systems on the school.

  • In October of this year we're hoping to have

  • that wood system on line, so instead of burning

  • 15,000 gallons of oil throughout this winter,

  • we're hoping to burn about 60 cords of wood.

  • And keep that money local and create

  • a little bit of an economy here.

  • Narrator: The bottom line for Tanana-- savings for the city.

  • Biomass is cheaper, local, cleaner and more sustainable.

  • Bear: Even though we are a very rich state, very blessed

  • to have the oil development that we do have,

  • those days are diminishing.

  • If we're going to make it in rural Alaska,

  • we have to move towards renewable resources.

  • I think we have, you know, less than 10 years

  • to move in that area.

  • Narrator: Winter in Alaska presents extreme challenges.

  • On this January day it was close to minus 50.

  • Gwen Holdmann is an engineer with the University of Alaska's

  • Center for Energy and Power.

  • She and her husband also raise sled dogs

  • and both are mushers who have raced in the Iditarod.

  • Today's run takes her past the Alaska pipeline,

  • which has transported more than 16 billion

  • barrels of oil since it opened in 1977.

  • Despite the fact that Alaska is rich in fossil fuels,

  • Gwen knows they're limited and expensive.

  • She wants to take advantage of every opportunity

  • to tap renewable energy.

  • Gwen: We are an isolated part of the world, and we are still

  • dependent very much on imports, and so becoming more

  • self-reliant on energy is still a real goal here.

  • Narrator: Gwen was part of the team

  • that built the first geothermal power plant in Alaska

  • at Chena hot springs.

  • Bernie Karl runs the Chena Resort

  • and came up with the idea of creating an ice museum

  • from the heat energy of the springs.

  • Bernie: Now you've heard of the great wall of China.

  • This is the great wall of Chena.

  • There's 800 tons of ice here.

  • Narrator: Bernie is a real American pioneer--

  • a showman, an entrepreneur, a tinkerer and enthusiast

  • for recycling old machinery, because it's cheaper.

  • He and Gwen successfully transformed the hot springs

  • into a geothermal resource that now generates power

  • from lower temperature water than anywhere else on earth.

  • What you're looking at is something that's impossible.

  • I went to the world's best manufacturer

  • of geothermal equipment and they said, "can't be done,

  • the word can't is not in my vocabulary."

  • It wasn't obvious at first that it could be done,

  • because these are low, really moderate

  • temperatures for geothermal.

  • The water that we're talking about here

  • is about the same as a good hot cup of coffee

  • and generating power from that isn't a trivial thing.

  • Narrator: Normal conditions for mid-winter Chena

  • are 3-4 feet of snow, subzero temperatures,

  • and only a few hours of daylight.

  • Heating and lighting costs were staggeringly high.

  • But now the resort runs year-round with over

  • 90% of its electricity coming from the hot springs.

  • Bernie's latest impossible idea is to use geothermal power

  • to make the resort self-sufficient in food

  • even when it's minus 50 outside.

  • Bernie: We have 85kw of lights in here,

  • high pressure sodium.

  • We're changing it to 8.5 kw of L.E.D.s.

  • Now, this takes 1/10th the electricity.

  • Narrator: For the past 6 years Chena has hosted

  • a renewable energy fair.

  • One keynote speaker was U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.

  • Lisa Murkowski: I'm a Republican.

  • Republicans by definition are seemingly more conservative.

  • What is more conservative

  • than harnessing what is available

  • and around us in a long-term sustainable way?