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B.C.'s kids are getting the Power Smart message: Are you?

Posted by Rob Klovance


Here at BC Hydro they're often referred to as "tomorrow's customers", internal language to describe those British Columbians too young to own homes and pay monthly electricity bills.

But just because the kids aren't yet in charge doesn't mean they can – or should – be ignored. There's a whole lot of enthusiasm for conservation in this group, from elementary school students right through to those in their 20s, and more clout than you may think.

In the past five years or so, more than 500 schools across B.C. have undergone student-initiated energy audits. And if you're a parent of a school-age kid, there's a pretty good chance you've been lectured by your son or daughter to be more Power Smart.

"Kids can get to the parents," says Barry Fergusson, who has been spreading the word about electricity conservation and safety for BC Hydro in schools since 2002. "The beauty of our conservation message at BC Hydro is that it's good for everybody – it's a product message you shouldn't fail with."

Enthusiastic kids are responding by taking that message out to their communities. And in recent years they've been able to do that through a number of contests and in-school initiatives, often with a video component.

One of these contests asked kids to come up with ideas for Team Power Smart public service announcements. Inspired by one of the more compelling storyboards, we've launched a fun little online "game" of sorts – at switchoff.ca – that tests adults' ability to get a basic message about saving electricity.

Fergusson acknowledges the power of video and, now into the second year of the Invent the Future Contest, expects great things from the kids. What he's pleasantly surprised by is the length some kids and teachers will go to tell the conservation story.

An example is the way Abbotsford's Mt. Lehman Elementary School embraced the public service announcement contest.

"Mount Lehman students came to one of our workshops and decided that they would do a movie of the whole school to submit to the PSA contest," says Fergusson. "Their theme was a small school with a big heart, population 89. It's this beautiful school in rural Abbotsford with a red barn across the road.

"The movie shows the kids with this superb greenhouse in the school, plus a group of "Power Rangers" that go around the school making sure everybody does the right thing."

Students sell the idea of a $200,000 spend

Of those 500-plus school energy audits, some have led to minor energy-efficient upgrades. Others, such as a lighting retrofit spearheaded by students and a school district mentor at Kwalikum Secondary School on Vancouver Island added up to some major upgrades.

Working through BC Hydro's Energy Ambassadors program, four students worked with a maintenance electrician to convince the local district to spend $200,000 in lighting upgrades across the district.

"In all our workshops related to conservation, we try to appeal to the kids' hearts and minds," says Fergusson. "We emphasize the importance of energy to the citizens of British Columbia, and that BC Hydro belongs to them. It's a very important concept, that BC Hydro's challenges are their challenges."

The "customers of tomorrow" seem to be getting the message. To find out how much you've learned from Power Smart's programs, see how well you do at switchoff.ca.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.