Winds of change at Allen Brook School1/15/09

Principal looks to harness wind power for education

Jan. 15, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

One of the first things state worker Doug Kievit-Kylar noticed about Allen Brook School when he visited two years ago was the incessant wind. Bringing presentation materials to the school from the parking lot for a lesson during an environmental theme week, Kievit-Kylar was nearly “blown away.”


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
A wind turbine spins on a hill above the Hinesburg Public Library on Wednesday morning. A similar turbine could be installed by year’s end at Allen Brook School.

“I asked someone, ‘Is it always this windy here?’” said Kievit-Kylar, who works as a pollution prevention planner with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and advocates the use of wind power throughout the state.

The short answer, from Allen Brook Principal John Terko, was “yes.” Part of Kievit-Kylar’s presentations included alternative energies and wind power. He suggested Terko consider looking at installing a wind turbine — a modern day windmill that harnesses electricity — on the property. Terko thought it was a great idea in terms of education and electricity.

Kievit-Kylar said setting a turbine up at a school is key to looking ahead to the future.

“If young people are coming to the school and seeing (the turbine), it really helps familiarize them with sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint,” Kievit-Kylar said.

For two years, Terko has been researching and applying for grants for a wind turbine and the project is now starting to come together. Terko said he’s successfully garnered $7,000 in grant money form the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, and expects another $20,000 from the Vermont Solar and Small Incentive Program.

The grants will be able to pay for the whole project, Terko said, adding a turbine could be fully installed by the end of the year.

Terko said he’s not certain where the potentially 100-foot high turbine will go, but he believes it may be installed somewhere on the eastern side of the building. In February and March, wind testers will be installed at different points on the building to gauge the windiest location.

Terko said for best results, the wind has to average around 15 mph per day.

“We are in the Champlain Valley, and we have a tendency for wind here,” Terko said.

The turbine would translate into $50 to $150 a week in electricity savings. It’s not a lot, but the primary goal with the turbine was always education, with cost savings coming as a bonus.

“The intent was to start educating kids at an early stage,” Terko said. “It’s about being aware of energy and looking towards the future.”

Examples to follow

Other schools in Vermont have successfully set up wind turbines. Addison Central School, in the windy southern Champlain Valley, has an older wind turbine. And Danville’s school, perched high in the mountains above St. Johnsbury, has a turbine that gets its share of wind. The University of Vermont also has one near its water tower along Route 2 in Burlington.

Inspired by the research Terko has completed, Champlain Valley Union High School senior and Williston resident Eric Kolibas is hoping to get the ball rolling on a possible turbine at the high school.

Terko and Kolibas met with the Williston-based company Earth Turbines, an offshoot of NRG Systems in Hinesburg, in November to see what could be done. Caleb Elder, a customer support specialist with Earth Turbines, said the company is currently developing new turbines for residential and small business uses.

“We’re still in the testing program and are not releasing details yet,” Elder said.

Elder added the company is testing 25 turbines throughout Vermont, including one near Hinesburg Public Library.

While nothing is set in stone between Earth Turbines and Allen Brook and CVU, Elder called the projects “worthwhile” for consideration.

Kolibas most likely won’t see a turbine installed at the high school by the time he graduates, but he hopes to lay the foundation for it in the future. He plans on coming up with a viable proposal another student could use to make a wind turbine a reality.

“The proposal will be pretty much the beginning stage,” Kolibas said. “I’m hoping to have someone pick this up again next year.”

Like other schools in the state, Terko believes the future turbine at Allen Brook will be the smaller, 100-foot high design, and not a larger turbine like those visible on the ridgelines in the southern parts of the state.

Terko believes there are a lot of residents in town who will support the project, but he’s also concerned about what the school’s neighbors may think. He doesn’t imagine the turbine being a nuisance in terms of noise and views. Terko has yet to bring the plans before any town boards and is waiting until the project becomes closer to a reality.

“I just want to make sure (neighbors) are educated and informed,” Terko said. “We already have a lot of support in the community.”