Like a student
growing up, wind has come a long way since its appearance on a school
campus in Iowa more than a decade ago. Since then, wind at school has
grown in both size and geographic reach.
Wind turbines at various educational
facilities have graduated from their smaller kilowatt roots in a
handful of districts to the several-hundred kilowatt or even megawatt
class, and are starting to appear across the U.S.
And while many have been built with
pedantic or exemplary motives - for teaching purposes or to promote
environmental stewardship - there has been some serious coin collected
to impress school officials and boards of directors.
Public school districts, private
institutions, and colleges and universities across the country have
embraced wind for a variety of reasons.
A combination of financial benefits, an
opportunity for academic learning and environmental awareness has
emerged since a 250 kW machine was installed in Iowa in the early
Schools have taken varied approaches to the
financial benefits they can gain from having a wind turbine on their
campuses - often depending on the net-metering laws or the financial
calculations derived from selling to the grid in a particular state.
Some have decided to use the energy to directly supplement their
electricity usage. Others have sold the electricity to the grid and
reaped thousands annually to provide financial support to academic
Portsmouth Abbey is such a school, with a
single turbine going into operation earlier this year. Brother Joseph
Byron, an instructor at the Benedictine boarding school on the Rhode
Island coast, was the promoter of the initiative over the past two
"In September of 2004, it really got going
in earnest," says Byron.
A difference is the setting: a populated
region in the East, where siting objections are likely to greet just
about every project, however small. And in a flat coastal region of the
Ocean State, the turbine is visible for miles.
Since the town of Portsmouth's zoning limit
is 35 feet for structures, the visual impact was going to be immediate
and potentially controversial. The tower sits at 164 feet high. But
Byron says the school was forthright and open with the community, which
came to enthusiastically support the project. The public schools in
town are now investigating installation of their own turbines, in fact.
The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund
kicked in a $450,000 grant, which was increased from an original
commitment of $150,000, to help make the first wind project in the
A Vestas V47 660 kW turbine that cost $1.2
million to install is expected to operate for the next 25 years.
The turbine is expected to produce 1.2
million kWh of electricity a year - 40% of the school's needs - and
save Portsmouth Abbey $100,000 a year. It is expected to pay back its
costs in five to seven years.
"We should be able to take advantage of the
seasonal pattern," Byron explains.
With light winds in the summer coinciding
with the school's vacation, proportionately more of the turbine's
generation will occur when school is in session and energy demands are
Colleges and universities have also gotten
into the act, with two colleges about 40 miles from the Minneapolis-St.
Paul metropolitan area becoming wind energy rivals - of sorts.
Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., in
September 2004 dedicated the first utility-scale turbine in the country
owned by a college or university - a 1.65 MW Vestas machine.
"What we've seen is pressure from the
student body to promote sustainability for the university's
facilities," says Bruce Andersen of RENew Northfield.
The college also sees an economic benefit.
Its power is sold to the incumbent utility, Xcel Energy, earning it 3.3
cents/kWh under a Minnesota small wind tariff. The turbine also
generates 1.5 cents/kWh from a state renewable energy payment
incentive. Through state grants and the income it generates, the
$1.8-million turbine is expected to be paid off in 10 to 12 years.
The college's mission statement includes a
clause for the institution to "be a model of environmental
Across town, St. Olaf College is about to
commission its own turbine, which is expected to produce about 30% of
the school's electricity needs. It received a $1.5 million grant from
the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund.
This is quite a growth spurt from the
beginning of wind at school.
The Spirit Lake Community School District
in Iowa started to explore developing the local wind resource in 1991.
After a series of studies and the award of government grants, a 250 kW
turbine was erected in 1993. It received a $139,000 grant from the U.S.
Department of Energy and a $100,000 low-interest loan from the Iowa
Department of Natural Resources.
Since low-interest loans were paid off in
1998, the district has earned $20,000 to $25,000 annually from sales of
electricity back to the local utility.
A second 750 kW turbine was erected in
2001, which now powers many of the buildings in the district.