The U.S. Department of Energy, Wind Powering America, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory launched the Wind for Schools Program in 2006. These groups identified six priority states for the program—and Nebraska was one of those states.
Nebraska Wind for Schools Program Consultant Dan McGuire says the program has three primary goals. First, to engage rural school teachers and students in wind energy education. Second, to equip college students with wind energy education and in wind energy applications to provide interested, equipped engineers for the growing U.S. wind industry. And third, to introduce wind energy to rural communities by initiating a discussion of wind energy benefits and challenges.
The projects were paid for in a number of ways from a number of sources. McGuire says schools were required to invest at least $1,500 dollars from their budget into the project to pay for the wind turbines. During the first few years of the program, McGuire says the Nebraska Public Power Board provided grants, funds, and equipment to help install the turbines at the schools.
"Likewise, a number of the local public power districts provided assistance to the schools by using some of their trenching and digging equipment—bucket trucks—so we have a great team in this public power state and we all try to work together. This was a perfect example of good government and private sector working together. Additional sources of funds: Schools applied for grants from a number of different sources, and that includes USDA Rural Development program funds, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that were administered through the Nebraska Energy office, the SEP Grant program—that's Supplemental Environmental Program grant funds—were provided to about a dozen of our Nebraska schools from the Nebraska Attorney General's office. They administer that. Other grant funds came from local community foundations and anonymous donors."
McGuire says local electric construction and contracting companies—along with other community-based businesses—provided in-kind donations of labor and equipment. He says the projects really have been community efforts.
Regarding the DOE funding, McGuire says it was always understood that funding would last for maybe five years and then other resources would have to be found to replace that funding.
"We prefer to see that funding continue. Well, it may not. So given that, we're looking for other possible sources of funding, especially to keep the University of Nebraska Wind Application Center going, because that Wind Application Center is the go-to place for technical expertise and to be the resource for all those K-12 partner schools that we now have, what I call our network of partner schools here in Nebraska. So that's a big deal, and we're looking for new sources of funding."
Nebraska leads the nation with 25 K-12 partner schools in this project, which McGuire says means with enrollment alone, 24,000 to 25,000 students are being reached, which represents nearly 8% of the total Nebraska K-12 students. Plus, he says there are more than 100 students involved through the University of Nebraska.
With this project, McGuire was pleased President Obama spoke in favor of more renewable energy and how job creation is an important part of renewable energy during his State of the Union address.
"One of the things that we need to remember: 20% wind energy by 2030. Now, that's a target that was set a few years ago by DOE and the American Wind Energy Association. And that report suggests that the wind industry could support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S. with an average of more than 150,000 workers directly employed in the industry. And there would be more than 100,000 jobs in associated industries, such as accountants, lawyers, steel workers, and electrical manufacturing, 200,000 jobs through economic expansion based on local spending, 1.5 billion by 2030 in annual increase in property tax revenues, 600 million in lease payments to rural landowners. And the Wind for Schools Program fits right into what the president was talking about in that State of the Union by helping to get the workforce ready to fill those jobs."
That's what McGuire says is one of the great things about the Wind for Schools Program. He says the future of the program is a bit uncertain, but there are many visionary wind energy advocates in the Nebraska Legislature and they view the program as a key component of the state's wind energy development potential and expansion opportunities for the future.
McGuire says the wind turbines installed in the 25 partner schools across Nebraska represent a big vision for what is possible for renewable energy's future.
"Those wind turbines stand for a lot. They stand for education. They stand for new careers. They stand for economic development, rural prosperity, energy independence for our state and for the nation. So, the Wind for Schools program stands for, and opens the doors to, all of those very positive and very real economic opportunities that Nebraska can capture for our young people, for the future, for generations to come."
That's why McGuire says rural Nebraskans—and all Americans—should care about wind turbines at schools and the potential they hold for the nation's future.
Reporting for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, I'm Seanica Otterby.