When the wind is blowing, like it is today, it seems like there is no better idea than a wind turbine. By mutual consent, the crowd of thirty or so gathered by the Maple dock to cut the ribbon on the sixty-foot high turbine are huddled against the cold like penguins.
We are here because Matt Hunter, a Math and Physics teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, pulled together all the threads of officialdom and sponsorship needed to make something like this happen.
“Today it’s been putting an average of 500 watts out, but it’s already produced 7 kilowatt hours. It works out to be fifty-six cents (laughs). But it’s not meant to be a money maker as much as a learning tool for us and the Coast Guard.”
On top of the Skystream turbine is a four-inch antenna which is transmitting data back to Mt. Edgecumbe High School, and from there it is uploaded to the Idaho National Laboratory, where it is available to the world. At 2.4 kilowatts, this project is a fraction of the size of commercial-scale turbines, but it is the real thing. The Department of Energy’s Wind for Schools program is about training the next generation of wind engineers.
“It’s a full curriculum for all grade levels. They build model turbines in the classroom, and you hook them up to a digital meter and you can tell how much power comes out. You can change the blade angles and blade design and try to figure out what the best design is. It’s a project I’m hoping on doing in Physics next year, and hopefully we can do it in the Physical Science courses that all the kids take.”
In a stiff breeze, the turbine can generate up to 2,000 watts, enough to run a microwave, a clothes dryer, or a hot water heater. It is the second IPP – or independent power producer – to be connected to Sitka’s electrical system in as many months. (A private homeowner installed a solar system in November.) When the Maple is away, the turbine will be delivering power into the Sitka grid.
The Sitka Electric Department contributed $5,000 to the project. Director Chris Brewton says he’ll gain insight into the feasibility of wind power.
“Well that’s why I’m really a supporter of getting this up. We’ll be able to collect very good data – actual production data – and be able to compare the actual cost per kilowatt hour to generate it versus solar or hydro or diesel. This probably has great applications for some of the islands without power and other sorts of remote locations. I don’t think we’ll ever get there on a utility grid scale simply because we don’t have enough consistent wind. But collecting this data is really going to help us make a good argument one way or the other.”
This is the third turbine installed in the Wind for Schools program in Alaska and the second for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard donated the $8,000 device, as well as its twin in Juneau. The agency has also pushed ahead on planning for conversion to biomass heating at its facilities in Southeast.
Steve Raney heads the Guard’s civil engineering office in Juneau. He says this kind of initiative pays back the Coast Guard in a couple of ways.
“One, we get the energy. So it helps the Coast Guard meet the president’s and national renewable energy goals that are there for the Coast Guard as a whole. But probably more importantly (because it doesn’t generate a whole lot of electricity in terms of what we need) is the goodwill in the community and the cooperation and the partnerships. The Coast Guard is trying to lead in a lot of renewable energy areas. This is a good step forward and gives us some notoriety from that perspective.”
The nuts-and-bolts experience could also prove useful to the Guard. Most lighted buoys today are powered by solar panels. Sudie Hargis, an energy program specialist with the Guard, says there are practical applications for wind power in the agency’s mission.
“This is allowing us to learn about renewable energy so we can implement it in other, harder-to-reach areas. For example, the distress radios: we have more than fifty distress radios in Alaska that carry distress signals from vessels offshore. And we helicopter propane fuel up to those mountaintops at exorbitant cost and risk to life. So we’d like to implement systems like wind systems that are safer, not risking people’s lives, and saving the country money.”
The Coast Guard is also big on the educational component of the turbine – which is really what this boils down to. According to the Renewable Energy Alaska Project – which put $1,000 toward construction of the turbine – there are already over ninety commercial-scale wind turbines generating power in villages in Alaska – villages where most of Mt. Edgecumbe High School students come from.
Matt Hunter hands a pair of scissors to a science student. “I guess it’s time to cut the ribbon and make this thing official… Awesome! (applause).”
Other sponsors of the Mt. Edgecumbe Wind for Schools project: Southwest Windpower (40-percent discount on tower and foundation), Lynden Cargo (free shipping), Sitka Ready Mix, and Jacoby Construction.
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