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WPA Hosts Fourth Annual Wind for Schools Summit: A Wind Powering America Success Story

January 13, 2011

On January 6 and 7, Wind Powering America (WPA) hosted its fourth annual Wind for Schools Summit at the National Wind Technology Center near Boulder, Colorado. The 2-day event gave attendees a chance to share their experiences from the past year with funding and curriculum, as well as overall developments.

With more than 50 attendees representing the 11 official Wind for Schools states, several states interested in developing Wind for Schools activities, and people supporting the project, the opportunity for everyone involved to meet and discuss ways to further establish the project in their states could not be missed.

Wind for Schools project manager Larry Flowers described the event as important for further Wind for Schools growth.

"It develops a network and a community where people feel comfortable calling each other up or sending e-mails saying, 'I'm stuck on this.' The important thing is that people don't feel intimidated to ask any questions. This way, the network develops into a vital experience where people can share and counsel. That's the purpose of this summit," Flowers said.

Montana State University Wind Applications Center director Robb Larson believes the summit allows participants to communicate on a level where everyone can learn from each other.

"All participants, whether veteran or rookie, benefit by sharing experiences. The new states should be able to cherry-pick the best of these ideas and maybe avoid pitfalls encountered by the first participants, and we veterans come away with some new ideas," Larson said.

The summit allowed representatives from five states recently established as Wind for Schools participants to intermingle with representatives from established programs and to listen and learn from experts who moderated sessions on different aspects of wind energy and the Wind for Schools project, including environmental and siting challenges, new curricula for the classroom, the role of rural and agricultural organizations, and small wind and installer certification.

Colorado state facilitator Tom Potter was pleased to participate and learn from all attendees.

"There's so much sharing going on that even the established programs are hearing so much. All of us are learning from each other about what works and what doesn't work," Potter said.

The annual meeting, which Flowers compared to the tradition of a spring powwow, also allows the team to look for ways that Wind Powering America can improve the overall Wind for Schools project.

"This activity is being implemented in the states; it is only appropriate for the Wind for Schools project team to learn what is successful and modify its strategy, taking advantage of the shared experience of all project participants," said Wind Powering America National Technical Director Ian Baring-Gould.

Established in 2005 to raise awareness in rural America about the benefits of wind energy while simultaneously developing a wind energy workforce and knowledge base in future leaders of our communities, states, and nation, the Wind for Schools project is currently supported in 11 states (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia) through funding and technical support by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

When asked about the overall growth of the Wind for Schools project, Larson said, "Obviously the program has exhibited growth in numbers of states with Wind Application Centers and quantity of turbine installations. But overall growth should also be measured in program visibility, political support at the local/state/national level, and the implementation of educational elements at schools and universities. Hundreds of university students have experience in wind energy topics as a result of this program, and perhaps thousands of K-12 students are aware of wind energy issues thanks to the work of the Wind Application Centers and Wind for Schools coordinators."

According to Flowers, the future of the Wind for Schools project will be interesting. Beyond establishing new installations at K-12 host schools and continuing growth in the classroom and at universities, a top priority for Wind Powering America and Wind for Schools will be for veteran states to stand on their own, without the direct funding that is currently provided from the DOE, allowing the project to initiate activities in additional states as appropriate.

"In the near future, we're going to transform the Wind for Schools project in those states where it is up and running and doing very well to an in-state, private-public partnership to fund and oversee the program. Basically, wean it off the DOE in terms of us as a funding role. In addition, we're going to get a number of states who are interested in pursuing Wind for Schools to be funded directly from in-state collaboratives," Flowers said.

The use of a defined affiliates program allows both individual schools and states to become involved, using all of the materials and concepts developed through the project to be implemented without the need for additional DOE support.

More information about the Wind for Schools project is available.

—Julie Jones