Colorado's Ponderosa High School Installs Latest Wind for Schools Project Turbine: A Wind Powering America Success Story

February 10, 2011

Since its inception in 2006, the PeaceJam Club at Ponderosa High School (PHS) in Parker, Colorado has played an integral role in helping the school become more environmentally friendly. Thanks to their efforts, on January 15, 2011, PHS became one of the newest members of Wind Powering America's Wind for Schools family.

Dubbed the "Mama PJ Mother Earth Wind Turbine," in honor of Debbie Ruiz, PHS PeaceJam sponsor, the 2.4-kilowatt Skystream 3.7 will be an educational tool in the classroom, giving the students the opportunity to learn through hands-on and interactive curricula that brings science, math, and engineering skills directly into the classroom.

The idea of the wind turbine began with the students wanting to become involved with a renewable energy project. With school and district support, they began to search for a grant to make their vision a reality.

Eliza Block, grant coordinator and media manager for the Douglas County Education Foundation, worked to secure $10,000 from a Colorado Governor's Energy Office grant.

"We found the award opportunity in early spring of 2010 and continued to keep our eye out for the Request for Proposals in April, and after that we decided to start writing. It probably took about a month to coordinate," Block said. "With something as big as a school district, where you have a number of people from different areas working on a project like this, Lee Smit from the energy side of things...myself, from the foundation and nonprofit side of things...you also have to pull in district folks to make sure that everything goes smoothly and that everyone is on board. That takes time."

Ruiz worked with the students and other project coordinators to fulfill all requirements of the grant award.

"Part of the grant was obtaining permits from Douglas County, and part of the permitting process was notifying the surrounding community. We designed a flyer and distributed 400 of them, inviting people to a community meeting," Ruiz said.

Another step in the permitting process was to present the project to the Board of Governors of the Douglas County Planning Commission.

Natalie Walter, a junior at PHS and a PeaceJam member, believed that the presentation was the key to gaining support for the installation.

"We presented the logistics and the numbers of the project mostly, but they also got to see how enthusiastic we were about it, too. I think when it's not just the school, and it's not just the administrators, when it's the students who are interested in it, that's when the community starts to get behind it, too," she said.

"The students did such a great job with their presentation. We had charts with noise levels and heights of surrounding structures in the area. After they showed those things, nobody said a word when they were asked for public comment," Ruiz said.

Kara English, a PHS student and PeaceJam member, feels that the turbine has created a buzz around the school with students and teachers.

"I think that a lot of students are excited about it. I think that the teachers especially are really excited about it. They realize it's going to be a big part of the future, and that's their job. To prepare us for the future any way they can," she said.

PeaceJam has led the school in other environmental efforts, including establishing a recycling program that reduced PHS's trash bill from an average of $1,201 per month to $550 per month. The club also participated in an energy management program, encouraging students and staff to change habits by turning off lights and unattended computers. They also worked with the school to "de-lamp" more than half the fluorescent bulbs in the hallways and classrooms.

Lee Smit, energy manager for the Douglas County School District, said that the programs that PeaceJam members have helped implement have an impact not only on personal habits, but also on the finances for the school and district.

"If you look at the numbers, in 3 years Ponderosa reduced their energy usage 30% and their electric demand 31%. They did that partially through convincing staff that de-lamping was a good idea, but the majority of it has been habit change, primarily turning lights off when people are outside the room at any time, no matter how long they plan on being gone, and also making sure that things like computers and projectors are only on when they're needed. Really, they're changing the culture of what's expected there. That 30% from all the things they helped lead is not only changing the culture, but it's also helping us save almost $70,000 a year," Smit said.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory agreed to purchase 10 years of "green tags" from the school for $2,000.