November 8, 2012

Wind energy on Virginia hilltops

Virginia has few wind turbines (and none offshore yet) but we are getting two new Wind for Schools installations in the western part of our 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. Whoopee!

Who is funding them? 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 a $12,000 Skystream 3.7 turbine from Southwest Windpower. In addition, the school raised approximately $1,000 through a parent and a movie night event for the project. That is a cooperative venture! Congrats.

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.

There were different permitting processes as well. Thomas Harrison Middle School is located on public property and as a result, there were no rules in place for the project. So they sought approval from the city council and the school board.

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 idea is to install small wind turbines at rural elementary and secondary host schools while developing Wind Application Centers at higher education institutions.

I am hoping that tax incentives for the wind energy industry continues in Obama's second term. If subsidies for fossil fuels continue (and I don't see them threatened), the playing field for renewables needs to be levelled.