Wind for Schools Project Funding Case Studies, Part 4: Begich Middle School, Anchorage, Alaska

Nov. 18, 2013

The Wind for Schools project was part of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) former Wind Powering America initiative (now known as Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach). 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 DOE's Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach initiative 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 Estey and Daisy Huang (Alaska). The result of these interviews is a series of case studies. The fourth part in this series describes funding mechanisms for the turbine installation at Begich Middle School in Anchorage, Alaska.

Although Wind for Schools turbine installations historically averaged approximately $20,000 each for equipment and installation, occasionally a project's costs escalated beyond expectations. One example of this is Begich Middle School in Anchorage, Alaska. The turbine installation at Begich was one of the most expensive Wind for Schools Project installations, due to a funding source that demanded large overhead and administrative management.

Preliminary work for the Begich turbine project began in 2010, with the installation in February 2012. The total cost for the project was $60,000; $40,000 of which was provided through a state funding mechanism.

Julie Estey, Alaska state facilitator for the Wind for Schools project, described Begich as an exception to the rule for Alaska wind installations. The majority of previous school turbine installations had relied heavily on community support and in-kind donations. This did not look like a promising avenue for Begich, so the school approached funding in a different way.

"They had talked to their Senator about receiving some funding through the state capital budget, and $40,000 was designated," Estey said. "This was a deal-maker for the project because no one was really sure how it was going to happen."

While the legislative award was the catalyzing factor that allowed Begich to begin work on their installation, the funding also created project overhead that previous projects hadn't experienced.

"As soon as that became designated funding from the state senate, it went through the Anchorage School District's procurement and administrative process," Estey said. "That created significant administrative budget overruns for project management and contract management."

According to Estey, the overhead led to the project running out of the allotted funds prior to the project's completion.

"At the end of the project there still wasn't enough money to finish it. At that point we provided some support from our partner organization, Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), and then they received a few other in-kind donations to make it happen," Estey said.

Estey said REAP's donation totaled $10,000. Other local companies and organizations contributed an additional $10,000 through small financial and in-kind donations.

The Begich project is not a typical example of funding mechanisms. Estey explained that other Alaska schools were successful at fundraising by utilizing a different formula.

"All of our other installations were funded through the school districts with a little bit of help from in-kind contributions," she said.

In addition to funds raised through community relationships, Alaska received help from the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been vital to three of the state's Wind for Schools installations.

"They supplied the wind turbines. They also took care of a lot of the electrical work and installation and paid for the shipping of the wind turbine, which are the typical things that increase costs for projects in Alaska," Estey said.

Typically, the wind turbine is the high-dollar item for a school installation. But in Alaska, the purchase of a wind turbine isn't always the primary cost.

"The wind turbine is the cheap cost for us," Estey explained. "The shipping and the installation are our main project costs. That concrete pour in Alaska is significantly more expensive than any other place I've ever been, especially in rural Alaska."

Although Begich Middle School utilized unconventional funding, the installation relied on local small donations and in-kind support. Eleven organizations pitched in to complete the project when it looked as though the initial award would not be enough to get the turbine installed.

Alaska projects using in-kind contributions is similar to project installations in the continental United States. Project planners stress that community relationships are vital to every project, no matter where they are based.

Begich Middle School Project Snapshot

  • Total project cost: $60,000
  • State Capital Budget Legislative Funding Award: $40,000
  • Renewable Energy Alaska Project Tour Green Program Award: $10,000
  • Financial and in-kind donations: $10,000
    • Begich Parent Teacher Association
    • Coffman Engineers
    • Susitna Energy Systems
    • Cook Inlet Region Inc.
    • Lynden Transport
    • Southwest Windpower
    • Chugach Electric
    • Larsen Consulting
    • Johnson Controls
    • Kodiak Electric
    • H Construction.

More Wind for Schools Case Studies