Wind for Schools Project Funding Case Studies, Part 3: Bloomfield Community Schools in Nebraska

Sept. 23, 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.

Completed in 2010, the Bloomfield Community School installation utilized a variety of sources to raise funds for the project. With a total installed cost of $15,500, the school was required to invest $1,500 in the project. Other turbine funders included the local utility, Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), a local wind project developer, Midwest Wind Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Great Plains, and NUCOR Steel. Doering Trenching also provided in-kind services for the projects.

According to Dan McGuire, Nebraska state facilitator for the Wind for Schools project responsible for 27 turbine installations, several advantages can be discovered through funding a project with multiple sources.

"The benefit of multiple sources is that there is more community engagement and involvement from multiple levels. It helps if you have a champion on the administration and hopefully one on the school board to engage more people and ensure community buy in," McGuire said.

In acquiring funds from a local project developer, the Bloomfield installation was able to take advantage of the larger wind industry developing in the state.

"Keep in mind that we had just passed the Nebraska wind law, and one of the first commercial wind projects was an 80-megawatt Midwest Wind Energy project at Bloomfield," McGuire said. "You could see the big turbines from the school site. Midwest Wind Energy ended up putting $1,500 into the project."

Leveraging funds from wind energy developers is dependent on having wind development in your state. According to Remy Pangle-Martin, associate director and curriculum coordinator for the Virginia Center for Wind Energy, the Virginia Wind for Schools project attempted to access industry funds without success.

"I guess in a state where you have wind projects that might be an easy thing to do, but in Virginia we don't have a wind project. It's hard. We reached out to a developer that proposed a project in Roanoke. We were eager to work with them, and they donated a little bit to our KidWind Challenge, but then the project fell through and they weren't interested in Virginia anymore. We asked for funding several more times, but their projects are elsewhere," Pangle-Martin said.

Steve Wegman, Wind for Schools project state facilitator in South Dakota, said that his state has been successful in accessing funds from wind energy developers.

"The other biggest contributors have been the wind developers, in particular Iberdrola, NextEra, and BP Wind. They've given more than $30,000 each to our program," Wegman said.

The USDA funding that the Bloomfield project used came in the form of a Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG). According to McGuire, the environment for this resource is constantly changing, so anyone interested in applying for these funds should research the availability first.

"USDA shifts its priorities with tighter budgets. Many rural landowners were applying for RBEG grants, not only renewable energy projects but also for energy efficiency projects. When the farm community learned about the RBEG and more farmers applied for those funds, USDA's top priority became dedicating the funds in that direction," McGuire said.

An additional portion of the financial side of the Bloomfield project that should be noted was the project's ability to utilize funding from the local utility. In terms of Nebraska installations, McGuire said that NPPD would typically provide $3,000 to a project if they were the retail provider and $1,500 if they were the wholesale provider. He also said that funds from Nebraska's utilities were more accessible prior to the installation of NPPD's Energy Education Center.

"NPPD only did that for so many years before they gave us word that they were developing their own Energy Education Center in Norfolk. They installed three Skystreams at different heights, as well as some solar and some other things. Their board decided they were going to do that instead of put their money in the Wind for Schools project. They said it would be used as their Education Center for Renewable Energy," McGuire said.

In South Dakota, Wegman and his team have experienced good and bad financial support from local utilities.

"You have to have support from the utility side, whether it's a rural electric cooperative or an investor owned. What we found interesting was that the companies we felt would be the hardest to work with were sometimes the easiest and those that we thought would be easiest actually turned out to be hardest," Wegman said. "For example, we thought that Otter Tail Power Company, which has a lot of wind turbines, would be easy to work with in the eastern part of the state. They weren't. They were actually one of the more difficult ones. Yet Black Hills Power and Light, which is out in the Black Hills and has no wind turbines and really doesn't have any renewable energy projects in its portfolio, was the easiest company to work with. They have been very supportive of our wind projects. They provided most of the funding for the Douglas School District, which is on the Ellsworth Air Force Base. That project is unique, and Black Hills helped us with a Wind for Schools turbine there."

The last two portions of the Bloomfield funding puzzle came from in-state businesses and in-kind donations. McGuire had established a relationship with NUCOR Steel, one of the largest electric users in Nebraska prior to the Bloomfield installation.

"This was the second time NUCOR put in $2,000 for a Wind for Schools project. The first was our first school in Nebraska, Elkhorn Valley in Tilden," McGuire said.

As for the project's experience in accessing in-kind donations, McGuire thinks it is a reflection of Nebraska Wind for Schools success in accessing that type of funding from an individual school's immediate community.

"We definitely have had multiple sources and quite a bit of in-kind participation. Concrete companies, construction, electrical, and other people from the community," McGuire said. "We've had a lot of community involvement."

Bloomfield Community School Project Snapshot

  • Total project cost: $15,500
  • The school was required to invest $1,500
  • Nebraska Public Power District: $3,000
  • Midwest Wind Energy: $1,500
  • USDA Rural Enterprise Grant: $7,000
  • Great Plains: $500
  • NUCOR Steel: $2,000
  • Doering Trenching: $1,000 in-kind donation

More Wind for Schools Case Studies