Two wind turbines Installed as part of Virginia Wind for Schools Program

Two wind turbines Installed as part of Virginia Wind for Schools Program

On November 19th and 20th, two SkyStream 3.7 small wind turbines were installed at Central High School in Woodstock, Va., and Thomas Harrison Middle School in Harrisonburg, Va., respectively. These turbines were installed as part of the Virginia Wind for Schools Program and are intended to act as an educational tool to teach students about wind energy.  Additionally, the turbines will expand awareness and hopefully acceptance of wind energy in their local communities.

The Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America program sponsors the Wind for Schools project to raise awareness in rural America about the benefits of wind energy while simultaneously developing a wind energy knowledge base in future leaders of our communities, states, and nation.  Schools participating in the program not only get an amazing new technology as a teaching tool. but teachers are also trained on curricula to incorporate this technology and its data into the classroom.

The Virginia Center for Wind Energy (VCWE) at James Madison University (JMU) administers the Wind for Schools program for Virginia.  In 2010, the first year the program was in place in Virginia, VCWE began working with Central High School and Thomas Harrison Middle School.  Students and staff from JMU worked with each school closely to help them through the project development process, including assisting with seeking funding, permitting, siting and resource analysis.  The schools ended up taking very different paths through the process based on the challenges they faced.

Central High School (CHS) contacted VCWE after two teachers attended a teacher workshop on wind energy where they heard about the Wind for Schools program at JMU.  The first hurdle to overcome with the project is securing funding for the wind turbine–up to $20,000.  After much brainstorming the school submitted a proposal for funding from a county education fund, the Moore Trust Foundation. Unfortunately, their first proposal was not funded due to a lack of permitting for the project.  The students from the CHS Ecology class presented to the county school board to get approval to proceed with the project and then the town of Woodstock was contacted about gaining the proper permits.  At that time, the town did not have a wind ordinance to guide them, so staff from the VCWE presented to the zoning committee some suggested regulations for a wind ordinance.  Using that information, the zoning committee drafted a wind ordinance and held public comment periods, which the VCWE staff and CHS teachers and students attended.  In the end, the school was able to gain the proper permits through the wind ordinance and a special use permit.  With the permitting in progress, their second proposal to the Moore Trust Foundation was successful, and they received additional funding from the Dominion Foundation for a total of $24,550.  With the permits and funds in hand, the school contracted with an experienced small wind turbine installer, Baker Renewable Energy, to install their wind turbine. The foundation was poured in October and the turbine was raised into place in November.  The students at the school gained a solid understanding of the work it takes to get a project done at the school and a firm grasp on the project development process for a small wind turbine.

Thomas Harrison Middle School (THMS) in Harrisonburg also came into the Wind for Schools program in 2010.  Again, the first hurdle to overcome was finding funding.  However, this project was lucky to stumble upon a funding opportunity from a local source, the Merck Foundation.  Fortunately, the foundation was looking to support a project focused on education and the environment in the local area and the THMS wind turbine project was chosen.  The school was awarded $14,500, with an additional $1,000 donated by the local news station, WHSV, and LD&B Insurance and $1,000 from a school fundraiser.  This figure could not cover the entire cost of the equipment and installation, so the VCWE staff and students encouraged the school to seek donations from the local community for equipment and services to get the wind turbine installed.  The materials and services needed included an electrician, an excavator, and cement as well as an experienced small wind installer to manage all the donated services. The process of securing donations took much longer than expected.  An article in the local paper started the process and the school was able to secure a couple of donations.  However, as time progressed, some companies backed out, others did not have the time, and some even went out of business.  In the end, Baker Renewable Energy was hired for a modest fee to manage all of the installation logistics for the project and all the necessary donations were obtained.  Although this was a very difficult and logistically complicated way to get the installation completed, the school and the students learned a lot about the project development process. In addition to the funding issues, the THMS project also had some difficulty in siting their turbine.  As with many schools, there is not always a lot of land on the campus that is open and not already being used for other purposes such as athletic fields.  The turbine was initially sited on a small hill close to the road, but it was found that this site was also home to many underground utility lines including a high pressure gas line. In order to avoid the utilities the project was moved closer to the school and school board approval was needed to relocate the project.  Students from the Ecology Club at THMS presented to the school board and approval was granted.  The foundation was poured in October and the turbine installed in November.

On December 11, both schools held dedication ceremonies to commemorate their wind turbine projects and to excite the students about the opportunities it will provide.  The dedication ceremonies featured a mosaic design contest, writing contests with readings by the winners, slideshows of project pictures, and speakers from the U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and AWEA.  

Now that the turbines are up and spinning, the students will have access to real-time wind energy generation data to use in the classroom.  In addition, students in the CHS Ecology class plan to compare the use of solar panels to the data from the turbine to see if that is a viable next step for the school.  The turbines will also be used to educate students and teachers in schools in nearby towns and counties through tours and through sharing of the data.

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