Wind for Schools Project Funding Case Studies, Part 1: Thomas Harrison Middle School, Virginia

Aug. 26, 2013

The Wind for Schools project is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Wind Powering America initiative. Since 2005, DOE provided funding for Wind Applications Centers in 11 Wind for Schools states, introducing teachers, students, and communities to wind energy applications and benefits. This Wind for Schools funding supported the project; it was not used to purchase turbines and equipment. Individual school champions emerged to find local funding mechanisms to purchase and install their turbines.

To learn more about these mechanisms, Frank Oteri and Tessa Dardani of Wind Powering America conducted interviews with project leaders in five Wind for Schools states: Remy Pangle-Martin (Virginia), Mike Kostrzewa (Colorado), Dan McGuire (Nebraska), Steve Wegman (South Dakota), and Julie Etsey and Daisy Huang (Alaska). The result of these interviews is a series of case studies. The first part in this series describes funding mechanisms for the turbine installation at Thomas Harrison Middle School in Virginia.

Installed in 2012, the Thomas Harrison Middle School wind turbine is unique in that it was primarily financed by local business funds and in-kind services, which allowed for minimal financial investment from the school. Remy Pangle-Martin, associate director and curriculum coordinator for the Virginia Center for Wind Energy, worked with the Thomas Harrison group from the beginning of the project, providing them with financing options.

"We provided them with two avenues. They could try to raise $20,000 and hire someone for the installation," Pangle-Martin said. "Instead, they chose the other avenue, which was to raise enough money to purchase the turbine and then hope to find in-kind donations within the community to install the turbine."

In-kind donations are an integral part of minimizing a project's cost. In the case of Thomas Harrison, the group acquired in-kind donations worth approximately $3,900. The donated services included trenching and electrical wiring, foundation excavation and concrete work, and a crane for turbine erection.

"In the end, they didn't have to raise much money, and they got a really good product that I think everyone was happy with," Pangle-Martin said. "It takes a lot more coordination to install a project with donated services, but I think it's worth it for the school."

Dan McGuire, Nebraska state facilitator for the Wind for Schools project responsible for 27 turbine installations, believes that finding successful in-kind donations depends on the type of leadership at the host school and the connections that those leaders make possible.

"Sometimes you'll have schools with very assertive, serious leaders, whether it's a superintendent, principal, or teacher," he said. "Some of them have been very hands-on with the community. Sometimes the school board members get involved. At Elkhorn Valley, the vice chairman of the school board was the real champion. His relatives owned one of the largest construction companies in the area. The school used their cranes to help install the system there."

Pangle-Martin also stressed the importance of community connections.

"The school reached out to the equipment donors and the concrete donor," she said. "We had a previous relationship with the crane operator. We used him when we installed our turbine on the James Madison University campus."

Steve Wegman, Wind for Schools project state facilitator in South Dakota, agrees that connections and relationships are essential in developing a successful Wind for Schools project.

"Relationships are everything, there's no question. That is the most important piece," Wegman said. He believes that many people don't understand how to cultivate relationships, and that it helps to have a relationship with an individual or entity before you approach them for donations.

An additional funding mechanism for the Thomas Harrison installation was business development funds, or funding from foundations, corporations, and other entities. They are extremely useful as a funding mechanism since these monies are not tied to state or local government budgets. Business development funds were key to making this project successful.

Pangle-Martin said that a Merck Foundation grant for $14,500 provided the majority of Thomas Harrison's business development funds. The school project also received a $1,000 grant from a local television station.

Business development funds have been used to help pay for the installation cost of Wind for Schools projects at other schools. According to Colorado Wind Application Center Director Mike Kostrzewa, the Wellington Middle School installation in Wellington, Colorado, also utilized business development funds as a main financing mechanism. Kostrzewa said that the Wellington school received funds from New Belgium Brewery ($5,000), O'Dell Brewery ($2,174), and Whole Foods ($6,872). With a total installation cost of more than $40,000, the $14,046 of business development funds covered nearly one-third of the Wellington project's total cost.

In the case of Thomas Harrison, after the grants and in-kind donations, the school was responsible for only $300; a fundraiser organized in support of the project raised the final balance.

Thomas Harrison Middle School Project Snapshot

  • The total project cost was $19,950.
  • The project was funded primarily through business development funds: a $14,500 Merck Foundation grant and a $1,000 grant from a local television station.
  • In addition, the school raised approximately $300 from a parent and a movie night event fundraiser.
  • The school purchased the Skystream turbine from Southwest Windpower for approximately $12,000. The project manager, Baker Renewables, is also a certified Skystream installer.
  • The school found in-kind donations (totaling approximately $3,900) for the trenching, electrical wiring, foundation digging, concrete work, and a crane to erect the turbine.

More Wind for Schools Case Studies