Virginia high school installs wind power

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A wind turbine will rise near the towering trees and open land around Grassfield High School in the western part of the Chesapeake, Virginia.

School division officials hope to have the wind turbine running by the end of July near the school athletic complex. They anticipate that it will help power the concession area at the football stadium and reduce the division's energy bill

They also see the turbine as a valuable way for students to study the fast-growing fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Grassfield is home to a STEM academy.

 

"This gives them a live, in-your-face example, which is what you want," said Paige Stutz, the division's assistant superintendent for operations.

The turbine, which will be about 70 feet high, cost about $20,000. Donations covered the expense.

This is not the first time a South Hampton Roads school division has delved into wind energy. For about the past three years, Virginia Beach has used four 60-foot windmills to help power a garage on rural Harpers Road where buses are worked on.

The project cost the Beach division slightly less than $100,000. Officials think the energy it produces will make up for its price tag within 11 years.

"It more than pays for itself over the life of the building," said Tim Cole, the division's sustainability officer.

Budgets are tight, so school divisions around the nation are looking for ways to cut costs. In 2005, the U.S. Energy Department launched the Wind for Schools project to help those interested in tapping into that power source.

By last year, more than 130 systems had been installed at schools in 11 states, including more than a dozen across Virginia and North Carolina.

Wind for Schools does not provide funding, but helps divisions find money. The standard turbine in the project costs up to $20,000 and is 2.4 kW.

That will likely power only a small share of a school's energy needs.

But for Remy Pangle, associate director of the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University, the turbines offer a greater benefit — helping students.

They can also calm any public concerns about wind energy, Pangle said.

"These projects are meant to show possibility," she said. "It's an educational tool."

One argument that comes up against wind energy is that huge turbine farms can be unsightly. But Pangle said school projects aren't loud or large enough to cause distractions to neighbors.

Interest in wind projects has increased in recent years, Pangle said. But many schools hold back on energy projects because of the cost.

Cole and Stutz said the savings generated down the road can make the initial expense worthwhile. Virginia Beach's bus garage also is designed to stop rainwater runoff on the site. Its newer schools have green features such as solar water heaters and skylights.

This summer, Chesapeake is participating in a program in which Dominion essentially pays the division to lower energy consumption at certain schools if the company's power grid gets high. Stutz expects the program — which the division can opt out of — to garner about $100,000.

The division also is exploring the possibility of solar panels at Western Branch High School.

Wind turbines and other alternative energy projects were scarce a decade ago.

"It's come far," Stutz said. "And I think it's going to go farther."

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