A large screen print hangs on the wall behind my desk at work. Created by my artist-husband when in college, it is a series of white, purple, black, blue and rose-colored triangles layered on top of one another in a scattered design. Resembling a stained-glass window on canvas, the 12 inch x 12 inch square sits center in a wide expanse of white matting bordered by a thin, silver frame. It is entitled Three Sides to Every Story.
Being a writer, I have always enjoyed the print’s symbolism. The old adage, “There are two sides to every story,” is just not true. There are at least three sides to every story: yours, mine and the next person’s. Especially in today’s media. Not all, but many reporters are biased, writing their political positions into their coverage on what should be strictly newsworthy, just-the-facts issues. As a result, public confidence wanes, as this annual Gallup poll shows. Confidence in television news and newspapers is at an all-time low.
To stem these plummeting confidence numbers, it seems every news outlet wants to show they are objective by facilitating panel discussions with pundits from opposing sides. My personal observation is the “discussion” becomes a spat of sarcasm and sensationalism, with each person talking on top of the other, yelling at times to get their political points in. When this happens, I turn the channel, disappointed that objectivity and respect for differing opinions has lost favor to position power, personal beliefs and agendas, and petty insults.
“Clean” energy, a conversation topic I find myself in often, is a good example. Rather than accepting there are pros and cons to every fuel source used to produce electricity, the importance of generating power with renewable resources seems to elevate individual emotion, volume, and righteousness on both sides of the issue. It makes a “meeting of the minds” nearly impossible.
There are at least three sides to every story: yours, mine and the next person’s.
I can remember walking into a fast food restaurant several years ago and ordering a hamburger for lunch. I was wearing an NPPD shirt, and a man I knew, whose wife babysat my children, approached me and loudly asked, “Why don’t you shut that nuclear plant down?”
Recent headlines in the local paper had announced the NPPD board’s decision to keep Cooper Nuclear Station, located south of Brownville, operating. Our board, senior management, customers and the local community had been discussing the pros and cons of closing it and replacing it with a coal-fired facility for several months.
Taken aback by the abrupt encounter and keenly aware we had an audience, I responded, “Because we believe it’s a good asset. It provides a lot of power – clean power – and is good, economically, for a rural area of the state.”
His scowl indicated he wanted to argue, but a public restaurant was not the right place, so I quickly tried to divert his angst. “You must be pleased we are building a wind farm up by Ainsworth.”
“Are you kidding?” He responded. “All those turbines sticking up everywhere! You’re going to ruin the land.”
I countered, “It sounds like you support our coal-fired facilities. They help us offer some of the lowest electric rates in the country.”
“That may be so, but I don’t like all that stuff coming out those stacks.” He put his hands on his hips in defiance.
Knowing a rebuttal about the pollution control equipment we had installed on our coal plants wouldn’t score me any points, I tried another energy resource.
“Then, you probably like the idea of NPPD building a natural gas facility near Beatrice.”
He looked at me like I had three heads.
“With natural gas prices as volatile as they are? That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!” he mocked. There wasn’t one resource the man seemed to approve.
I might have tried pitching our use of hydropower, but, thankfully, a restaurant staffer called my number, and I turned toward the counter.
“NPPD doesn’t want to put all its eggs in one basket,” I commented over my shoulder. “Having a variety of fuels and resources to choose from helps us keep electric rates low for customers.”
I collected my lunch and turned back to see that those who had been watching our skirmish had returned to their own conversations. We were dismissed. Here I was, giving them the most important message I could deliver about the importance of a diverse energy mix, but, because the conflict was gone, so was their interest. Our exchange in the restaurant that day represented the three-sided story we experience today: my statements, his beliefs and the opinions of everyone else.
I shrugged, half-smiled and walked out the door. There was no resolution to our discussion, and there still isn’t a single, perfect answer to our energy needs today.
Having worked for NPPD 20 years, I have come to accept I can’t change opinions about which resources we should use to generate electricity for more than 600,000 Nebraskans. The science and complexity of power supply and demand, and the importance of maintaining reliability of service doesn’t garner much interest or concern by the average person. They just want the lights to come on, and I can’t blame them.
Yet, I wish more people were interested in how power flows from generator to their home and what can happen along the route in terms of cost, voltage levels, impact to plant equipment, employees and the economy of our state. There are always additional sides to every story. As the state’s largest electric generating utility, which also operates and maintains approximately 7,000 miles of power lines, we hold a responsibility to keep rates low and reliability high. It’s more than just a choice in fuel.
Thomas Edison once said, “Most people miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Well, I work in communications, so ultimately, it is up to me to find opportunities – like writing this blog – to prompt more discussions among us and talk about the many sides to our energy story.