Wind turbine empowers education

March 3, 2010

By Gary Raham

The Wellington


Hopes rising. Contractors at Wellington Middle School (above) on Feb. 15 inspect a wind turbine that will produce energy for the school and serve as a teaching tool.
Photos by Gary Raham

Characteristic Colorado blue skies served as a perfect backdrop on Feb. 15 as engineers winched a 2.4 kW wind turbine aloft on the southeast corner of the football field at Wellington Middle School.

Chilled but enthusiastic faculty and staff leaped and cheered as WMS became the first of six Colorado schools to enjoy the educational and clean energy benefits of a wind turbine. The school is a participant in the Wind for Schools Program — a collaborative effort between the Governor’s Energy Office, Colorado State University, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

One big faculty smile belonged to Bill Peisner, school counselor and author of the grant that helped WMS become the only Front Range school and only middle school to host a wind turbine. The other selected sites are on high school campuses in suitably windy eastern plains locations.

The turbine should supply in excess of 300 kilowatt-hours per month for the next 20 years to the school — roughly the monthly electricity requirements of a small residence — but teachers are most excited by the educational opportunities the facility will provide both to students and the community at large.

“The curriculum piece is huge,” said Peisner.

Teachers have been taking classes in Burlington, Denver and Boulder related to using aspects of the wind turbine power generation process to fulfill teaching goals in science, technology and math. Future training, Peisner added, will take place at NREL, which has offices in Golden and Washington, D.C.

The general public can learn more about the project when everything is up and running. Plans include an educational kiosk built around the control panel for the turbine somewhere in the school lobby. Individuals or companies interested in possible wind turbine facilities of their own may contact the school for additional information about details of operation.

According to a press release last July from Gov. Bill Ritter, the GEO provides $5,000 for each school project and NREL contributes an additional $2,500 to purchase the Renewable Energy Credits generated by the small turbines. The school districts provide the balance.

Peisner said that the cost for the entire Wellington project totaled about $37,000. Local donors and sponsors include Whole Foods, the Bohemian Foundation, New Belgium Brewery, Odell’s, the Wellington Alumni Foundation, Woodward Governor and the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster.

Hydro Electric LLC in Bellvue supplied the turbine. Michael Kostrzewa of CSU’s Wind Application Center serves as an advisor to Colorado schools during the location and installation process. CSU engineering students also get practical, hands-on experience. And, of course, the university would love to get some future engineers from eager students who can see wind at work.

“We want the students at these schools to learn and get excited about wind energy to pursue a career in this field,” said Kostrzewa in the GEO press release, “and we hope to have some engineering students from these schools working at the WAC in the next few years.”

For now, the new turbine stands tall on the school campus, charging the imaginations of staff and students. And every time the wind blows 5 mph or more, they receive more electricity to keep lights and computers running.