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Classroom Role Play – A “Mock” Public Hearing

Deciding About Construction of a Power Plant

Making a decision about whether to build a power plant of any type in a specific location can be a complicated undertaking which brings out diverse opinions and powerful emotions. Setting up a classroom role play to simulate a public hearing on the plan could be an effective way to sensitize your students to the many points of view and the tough tasks involved.

Many groups have a stake in such a decision – and widely differing points of view. Structure the role play activity around the interests of these different groups.

Assign each student to take on the role of an individual or a role in a group. Allow some time for students to investigate the concerns and questions that might be important to their “assigned roles.” Then, bring the students together at a mock “public hearing” conducted by a group such as the zoning board or the city council. Let each person play a role in the event, voicing questions, opinions and concerns. Someone must chair the hearing (mayor or chairman of zoning board) so that everyone gets to participate.

You may want to structure the specific nature of the “power plant proposal” by creating a hypothetical situation that bears similarities to your own community. Or, you may wish to make it more generic. In general, however, presume there is a proposal to build a new power plant near an existing community. The company planning to build can be identified either as a well-known local utility or as an independent company which will construct an electricity generation plant and sell the power to a local utility company.

Assign students to a variety of roles or groups such as:

  • Top Managers of the power company proposing the plant; engineers who designed the power plant
  • Chamber of Commerce officials; members of the local business community; an official whose responsibility it is to promote economic development in the region and wants to attract new manufacturing companies to the area
  • Local Government Officials (mayor, city council members, school board members, members of the county board, etc.)
  • Leaders of local government services (police, fire, sewage department)
  • Real estate sales people; a real estate developer, owners of large blocks of property near town or near the proposed site
  • New homeowners in the area of the proposed plant; long-time residents of the community; members of a local historic preservation group
  • Members of a local environmental protection groups similar to Sierra Club or Audubon Society member
  • Citizens for Recycling and Reclamation (a group focused on conservation activities)
  • Members of the community who own stock in the power company
  • Others you may deem appropriate

Coach the students to think about how each person or group would view the construction of a power plant.

What concerns would they have because of their role? How would a new plant impact property value? What would that mean to government officials? What about the impact on property owners or real estate investors?

How would the new plant impact the environment, rare species, wetlands, air quality, public health? Would different groups have different views about this? What might those views be?

Would the presence of a new power plant impact population, school attendance, costs of operating community services, etc? Would it bring additional traffic? What other impacts might it have? Would the community have to spend money to expand services? Will population changes affect the “character” of the community? Will it affect appearance or desirability of the community?

Will opinions and concerns of various groups and individuals depend upon whether the proposal is to use coal, gas, or nuclear for the power source? How will these factors influence their opinions? What can each group do to influence others?

Have the students research appropriate information, questions and concerns in advance. Convene the “mock” hearing. Conclude the session by discussing some of the things students may have learned from the experience.


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