By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK -- After a lengthy process of filling out applications, finding funding and receiving permits, a permanent wind turbine was installed at Central High School on Monday afternoon.
Back in 2010, teachers at the school learned about the Wind for Schools project, which educates a community on wind energy options while making wind data and educational tools available in the classroom. The program is facilitated through James Madison University's Virginia Center for Wind Energy, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. It started in 2005, and came to Virginia in 2010.
Central applied to be a host school for a turbine in 2010, but had trouble finding funding and permits. Eventually, the school received $14,500 from the Moore Educational Trust and $10,000 from the Dominion Foundation.
The turbine and associated software cost about $12,000, with the remaining cost coming from installation by a contractor.
While two other local educational facilities have had weather bug stations, which collected wind data, the technology was only available for a year. The new wind turbine, however, is permanent.
The structure is 55 feet tall and has three blades, each 6 feet long. At peak wind speeds, the turbine is capable of generating 2.4 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to power one classroom for a year. Peak wind speeds are anywhere from eight to 12 miles per hour, and Woodstock's average wind speed is only four miles per hour, according to Remy Luerssen, director of education and outreach at the state's Center for Wind Energy.
"We put in a weather bug station previously to give us some idea of the wind conditions for the area," she said Tuesday. "But the turbine's actual data could be different because the weather station is in the back of the school and isn't quite as high in the air as the turbine will be."
Once the school has received a designated computer that is hooked up to the turbine, real time data will not only be available to the school and community members on the Internet, but it also will be on constant display on a screen in Central's cafeteria.
Luerssen said science and math classes can use the software and data.
"There's a lot of jumping off points when it comes to educational value of this project," she said.
Ecology and environmental science teacher Meredith Bauserman is one faculty member at Central who has been pushing for the project.
"Myself and other teachers looked into the program, and it all sounded great," she said. "Plus, Central isn't the only school that can benefit from this. Middle school and elementary schools can access the data too, and that just fit in so well with our goals."
Curriculum is made available for teachers who are interested in teaching children of all ages about wind energy, she added.
"We can do calculations to figure out how many turbines would be needed to power the entire school, as well as involving finances to decide if it would be a cost-effective option," she said. "But we can still branch out with student projects and research. I might have my students use the data collected here to figure out how a turbine or wind farm could be used to power their homes."
The team at JMU also hopes to bring a community outreach aspect into the project. Luerssen said some places in the state are considering wind farms and the creation of wind ordinances, so the project will approach those areas to help give them the best information on wind energy's pros and cons.
"There's just really a lot of misinformation about turbines, what they do and the so-called dangers associated with them," said Kenny Howell, facilities and logistics coordinator with the Center for Wind Energy. "People hear "wind turbine" and picture utility-scale structures that are associated with power plants, but what we're bringing to communities is on a much smaller scale."
The permitting process for Central's turbine was drawn out because Woodstock had no permits or ordinances in place that addressed such a project or structure.
"That's pretty typical in Virginia," Luerssen said. "We've helped a lot of other localities with that end of things. We don't want them to set certain restrictions without realizing how it could negatively impact the benefits of a wind turbine or farm."
Central joins a list of fewer than 10 schools in the state that have permanent structures. Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are the only states on the East Coast that use the Wind for School program.
"I think it will catch on," Luerssen said. "All the teachers that work for schools that have turbines check in with us quite often, letting us know what a great learning tool it is. Having something like this at a school, where everyone can see it, has a huge impact on the community's knowledge of wind power and its benefits."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org