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The Electricity Fairy

Producer: Appalshop Films
Director and Editor: Tom Hansell
Length: 52 minutes
Genre: Documentary
Release Date: August 1, 2010



Short Description:

The Electricity Fairy examines America's national addiction to fossil fuels through the lens of electricity. The documentary follows the controversy surrounding a coal-fired power plant in southwest Virginia’s mountains, connecting the local controversy to the national energy policy debate.



Mid-Length Description:

“The fight over the power plant in Wise County represents a larger struggle to define progress and development in American society as a whole.”-Dr. Ron Eller

Coal produces half of America’s electricity, according to the Federal Department of Energy. The energy policy currently before Congress identifies coal as a key to America’s "energy independence.” The Electricity Fairy is a documentary that examines America's national addiction to fossil fuels through the lens of electricity. Appalshop Filmmaker Tom Hansell follows the story of a proposed coal-fired power plant in the mountains of southwest Virginia, connecting the local controversy to the national debate over energy policy. Present day documentary footage is remixed with old educational films, connecting past policy to America's current energy crisis.

Long Description:

Coal produces half of America’s electricity and the energy policy currently before Congress identifies clean coal technology as a key to America’s "energy independence.” The Electricity Fairy is a documentary that examines America's national addiction to fossil fuels through the lens of electricity.

The setting for this story is Wise County, Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields. This region exports both coal and electricity, and the rugged mountain landscape provides an intimate view of national energy issues. Coalfields that began to be developed a century ago are nearing the end of their productivity, demonstrating the finite nature of fossil fuels. Remaining coal seams are increasingly difficult to mine, requiring radical techniques, including the removal of entire mountain tops, to access narrow seams of coal. Air and water pollution from coal mines and the power plants they supply spreads beyond the region and contributes significantly to global warming. Yet the economy of Wise County, like the economy of our nation, remains inexorably linked to coal and fossil fuels.

During the fall of 2006, Dominion Power, a utility that describes itself as “one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy,” proposed construction of a new coal-fired power plant near St. Paul, Virginia. Local politicians project that the plant will produce more revenue than all of Wise County combined. Opponents say the plant will release dangerous amounts of mercury, sulfur, and carbon dioxide.

The debate over the proposed Virginia City power plant can be seen as a microcosm of the national energy debate. Dominion and the plant’s supporters project that electricity demand in Virginia will increase by 40% in the next 20 years, and that this plant will help meet that need. Coal is currently the nation’s most abundant source of electricity. However, increased concern about global warming has lead scientists, environmental groups, and some politicians to call for a ban on new coal plant construction.

Wise County is firmly in the crosshairs of the national debate over the future of coal. After a series of heated public hearings, the Virginia Air Board approved the air permit required for Dominion to begin construction of the power plant. Still, citizens are working to oppose the plant and create a sustainable local economy.