First Virginia Wind for Schools Project Turbine Installed: A Wind Powering America Success Story

March 11, 2011

Wind Powering America's Virginia Wind for Schools team welcomed the state's first school turbine at Northumberland Middle/High School on February 11, 2011. The 3.7-kilowatt Skystream will be utilized as 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 to them in a "real world" application.

Remy Luerssen, director of education and outreach for the Virginia Center for Wind Energy and state facilitator for the Virginia Wind for Schools project, believes that the turbine is an important step for wind energy in Virginia, a state with few turbine installations. Besides its role in classroom education, the project is a way to make surrounding communities aware of wind energy's potential.

"This first turbine, being right there on the coast, is big because there will be a lot more wind development happening offshore. Getting these coastal communities on board and understanding what wind energy means, I think is a really big hurdle, and I think this gets us one step closer," Luerssen said.

According to Jenny Christman, Northumberland County Public Schools instructional technology resource teacher, the project began after the school relocated to a new facility. The school's superintendent decided he wanted to utilize renewable energies at the new location.

"One of the things our superintendent really wanted was state-of-the-art technologies. He wanted solar panels and a wind turbine," Christman said.

After investigating further, Christman feared that applying for funding for both solar panels and a wind turbine would be cost prohibitive. In November 2009, the school applied for a $20,000 stimulus grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) to fund only the turbine project. The Virginia DMME grant funding originated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to the DMME website, approximately $5 million was made available on a competitive basis to localities looking to install solar thermal systems that heat water or air, photovoltaic equipment (solar electric), and wind power systems. Eligible localities included public schools (K-12) and Virginia community colleges.

Almost a year after submitting the grant application, funding was approved, allowing for construction to begin. The foundation was poured in December 2010.

Northumberland is located in a rural area of Virginia, and Christman believes that the turbine will not only be an interesting educational tool for the classroom, but also an equalizer in terms of the digital divide that exists between rural and urban America.

"Our kids are competing with the kids in Northern Virginia, the kids in Richmond, the kids in Virginia Beach, to get in the same colleges, but they don't have the same skill base because of a lack of exposure to so much of the technology that's out there," Christman said.

"We're not planning to power the whole school. The purpose behind this is educational. We want to be able to create real data that our students can manipulate in their math, science, and computer classes. This is the STEM initiative, the whole thing," Christman said.

The STEM initiative is a national push for educational reform in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"Nothing is isolated. Instruction can't be isolated anymore, especially in the science, technology, math, and computer areas, because they aren't separated anymore. They have to be integrated, and they have to be taught together. This seems like a really good opportunity for us to be able to jump into our first STEM initiative with both feet," Christman said.

Not only will Northumberland students and teachers use turbine data from their school for educational purposes, they will also be tied into a national database. The school's turbine productivity is linked to the Idaho National Laboratory's national database. This application allows schools across the country to compare the production of school wind turbines at multiple sites in the United States.

The Virginia Wind for Schools project plans to install four turbines in 2011.