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Virginia to Complete Two More Wind for Schools Turbine Installations: A Wind Powering America Success Story

October 22, 2012

With two new Wind for Schools installations under construction, the Virginia Wind for Schools project continues to expand in the Old Dominion state. According to Remy Pangle, associate director and curriculum coordinator at James Madison University's Virginia Center for Wind Energy, construction on the Thomas Harrison Middle School and the Central High School installations are scheduled to be completed in mid-November.

Although the two turbines are both Wind for Schools installations, the funding mechanisms for the two projects are very different.

Thomas Harrison Middle School of Harrisonburg City applied for and received a Merck Foundation grant totaling $14,500 and a $1,000 grant from a local television station to help purchase the Skystream 3.7 turbine. In addition, the school raised approximately $1,000 through a parent and a movie night event for the project.

"They took on a very different scenario in terms of how to pay for this," Pangle said. "The school purchased the Skystream from Southwest Windpower, which cost about $12,000. Then they hired a project manager who is a certified Skystream installer: Baker Renewables."

According to Pangle, the school found donors for the electrical and concrete work, foundation digging, trenching, and the crane lift. Baker Renewables assembled the SMART foundation for the project and coordinated the foundation dig and will assemble the tower and the 2.4-kilowatt turbine to complete the project. The fundraising and donations were essential to help pay for the project.

Central High School received two grants to cover the purchase and installation of its Skystream wind turbine: a $14,500 grant from the Moore Educational Trust and a $10,000 grant from the Dominion Foundation. With this level of funding, Central High School took a different approach with its installation, hiring Baker Renewables to install the entire project, including electrical and concrete work, foundation digging, trenching, and the crane lift.

In addition to differences in raising and using funds, the two schools also experienced different permitting processes.

Pangler explained that the Thomas Harrison Middle School is located on public property and as a result, there were no rules in place for the project. The Wind for Schools team did seek approval from the city council and the school board.

Andy Jackson, science coordinator for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, worked with the Virginia Wind for Schools team on the Thomas Harrison Middle School installation.

"We looked at the idea of placement within the Harrisonburg community. The place we decided on, Thomas Harrison Middle School, is one of our two middle schools and is notoriously windy. It's on a hilltop and seemed like a good location, both geographically with the wind and because of interest among the science teachers," Jackson said.

While the Thomas Harrison permitting process was relatively smooth, the process for the Central High School installation included the Virginia Wind for Schools team presenting on small wind turbines and suggesting height and sound restrictions as the town of Woodstock developed a wind ordinance prior to approving the installation. The group also attended public hearings during the process.

Pangle believes that the two projects will provide examples for other Virginia schools to follow in the future. "We're hoping to have a statewide summit where all the people involved with Wind for Schools can come together and learn from each other in terms of success stories and challenges and how they overcome them," she said. "And these two schools will be very good examples."

With funding becoming increasingly critical as schools face budget cuts and other economic uncertainties, the Virginia Wind for Schools project is looking into utilizing smaller turbines than traditional Wind for Schools installations and is also seeking donations from wind companies located in Virginia, in addition to grants and other established funding mechanisms.

The Virginia Wind for Schools project currently has two complete installations at Henley Middle School in Crozet and Northumberland Middle/High School in Heathsville. An additional installation at Luray High School in Luray should be completed this spring.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Powering America initiative, based at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, helped to launch the Wind for Schools project in 11 states (Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) to equip college juniors and seniors with an education in wind energy applications; engage America's communities in wind energy applications, benefits, and challenges; and introduce teachers and students to wind energy. The general approach of the Wind for Schools project is to install small wind turbines at rural elementary and secondary host schools while developing Wind Application Centers at higher education institutions. Teacher training and hands-on curricula are implemented at each host school to bring the wind turbine into the classroom through interactive and interschool wind-related research tasks. The students at the Wind Application Centers act as wind energy consultants. They assist in the assessment, design, and installation of the small wind systems at the host schools, which prepares them to enter the wind workforce once they graduate. More information about the Wind for Schools project and the Virginia Wind for Schools project is available.

—Julie Jones