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Wind Powering America Hosts Fifth Annual Wind for Schools Summit

Posted Jan 17 2012 2:00am
Date: 1/17/2012

On January 12 and 13, 2012, Wind Powering America hosted its fifth annual Wind for Schools Summit at the National Wind Technology Center near Boulder, Colorado. During the 2-day event, attendees shared their experiences from the past year, future concerns, and overall developments in their individual programs.

With almost 40 attendees representing the 11 official Wind for Schools states and related stakeholders, the opportunity for everyone involved to meet and discuss ways to further the Wind for Schools projects in their states could not be missed.

Wind for Schools project leader Charles Newcomb described the event as a mutually beneficial experience for the Wind Powering America team and the Wind for Schools participants. He said that two-way communication is an integral part of the event, including hearing reports from the groups.

"This summit gives them an opportunity to engage in conversation that gives everyone a much better perspective of how they are learning as an institution," Newcomb said. "It was helpful to get their updates, hear about their challenges, and see how people are overcoming some of the issues."

Newcomb added that this summit identifies consistent concerns, which in turn allows Wind Powering America to target its technical support better in the future.

In 2011, many states involved in Wind for Schools experienced victories. The North Carolina team installed seven turbines at schools in mountain counties and on the coast. According to David French, associate director of the North Carolina Wind Application Center, his state's success can be attributed to hiring someone to search for funding.

"We hired someone to search for money full time; that's her job," French said. "A lot of our success comes from landing a few big grants. I guess the advice that she would give, and my first advice, would be to hire somebody. If you're a busy academic, then you can't look for funding all the time. She was able to meet people face to face and really go after it."

Long-term financial sustainability and the concerns surrounding it are critical due to the end of direct funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the initial six Wind for Schools state projects.

"All of the original six states have been able to identify funding sources that can cover different aspects of their Wind for Schools activities," reported Ian Baring-Gould, the technical director of the Wind Powering America initiative. "Although this is great news, the core challenge is finding a sustainable model that covers all of the diverse activities encapsulated in this one program."

According to Larry Flowers, deputy director of distributed and community wind for the American Wind Energy Association, the next year will be important for the Wind for Schools project.

"One of the biggest issues now is, how do we change the program to make it sustainable from a funding standpoint, as well as an institutional standpoint. That's something that we'll evaluate in 2012, and when we come together next year, we'll have some successful sustainability models that each of the groups can look at and adapt for their states," Flowers said.

In addition to sessions about utilizing a variety of funding sources to create programmatic sustainability, topics discussed during the summit included a small wind industry update, current project barriers, and curricula integration at the K-12 and university level.

Kimberley Anne Maher of the Alaskan Center for Energy & Power is a new member of the Wind for Schools project team. She attended the summit for the first time this year.

"Costs in Alaska are much higher than they are elsewhere because of our location and geographic hurdles, the lack of roads, and low population densities spread out over huge areas," Maher said. "We're trying to see how we can take the great work that's been done in Alaska and try to move forward, to do the most good with the resources that we have. So it's great to see what the other states have been doing, to get new ideas of how they're tackling issues, and the range of programming."

According to Jonathan Bartlett, Wind Powering America national technical director, the summit was an accomplishment in many ways.

"The summit was a success in terms of bringing everyone together and exchanging lessons learned. It gives everyone an opportunity to increase their resources of information in a very quick manner. We see there are variations between different states, but there are solutions that can be applied from one to another. As far as going forward, we are definitely interested in finding ways to have the program continue to increase its effectiveness," Bartlett said.

Established in 2005 to raise awareness in rural America about the benefits of wind energy while simultaneously developing a wind energy workforce and knowledge base in future leaders of our communities, states, and nation, the Wind for Schools project was originally supported through funding and technical assistance by the DOE.

Through the WPA activity, DOE currently supports activities in 11 states (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia) while other states such as Illinois are becoming involved through the Wind for Schools affiliates project.

More information about the Wind for Schools project is available.

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