Wind for Schools Project Funding Case Studies, Part 5: South Dakota

Dec. 2, 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. DOE ceased funding the Wind for Schools project for several months.

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 fifth and final part in this series describes a possible future for new South Dakota installations and delves into the potential issues and solutions for maintaining the 135+ wind turbines in and out of the classroom during funding lapses.

The costs associated with a Wind for Schools project have always been one of the major barriers for schools hoping to join the program. Decreased school budgets may result in limited possibilities for installing a turbine and integrating wind energy into the curricula. In South Dakota, Steve Wegman, state facilitator for the Wind for Schools project, has been working on an alternative to the approximately $20,000 investment for the typical SkyStream turbine installation.

"We started reformatting our Wind for Schools program 2 years ago because we thought that instead of focusing on educational benefits, we were in more of a maintenance, operations, and construction mode," Wegman said.

To return the focus of his program to the educational benefits associated with a wind turbine at a school, Wegman decided that the South Dakota program would offer a low-cost option that would allow the schools easier access to the Wind for Schools project and more flexibility with the installation.

"We have a prototype in Brookings, where we've been using the smaller Air X wind turbine," Wegman said. "Teachers can keep them in their classroom, they can change the blade design any way they want, and they can take them out into the schoolyard and install them on multiple sites."

In Wegman's opinion, the lower cost for an Air X machine compared to the SkyStream should allow schools a chance to participate in the project without having to undergo the extensive and often frustrating process of fundraising.

"Going forward, the hardest thing is getting money from the school districts. Two years ago, budgets were cut 10% across the board," he said. "They're now equal in monetary funding from the state. The only additional money we get for wind turbines is whatever local community people can write grants for."

One of the advantages of utilizing a smaller wind turbine is the opportunity to relocate the equipment to determine the areas on campus that have the strongest wind resource.

"It helps the kids understand siting better. Which are the best three sites on the property? The installation is more about education than visibility at that point," Wegman said.

Ensuring that education continues for the 135+ Wind for Schools turbines across the country is a concern during funding lapses. Remy Pangle-Martin, associate director and curriculum coordinator for the Virginia Center for Wind Energy, believes that DOE funding lapses present challenges in continuing the Wind for Schools mission.

"In Virginia, we lost our funding at the end of September, so we're really thinking hard about how we can focus ourselves and whether we can find additional funding to do what we do," Pangle-Martin said. "My role really involves the curriculum part, training teachers and talking to kids, getting our wind kits out there, and I don't know how much of my time will be covered after the Wind for Schools grant is over."

Like Wegman, Pangle-Martin and her team have considered a switch to a smaller turbine for future installations, hoping it will help to decrease the amount of time required for project development and permitting, reducing the amount of funding needed to keep the Virginia Wind for Schools project operating. They've also considered additional steps.

"I think we're trying to adjust, trying to focus less on classroom visits and more on hosting students at James Madison University so that we don't have to pay for travel, and training teachers so we get the biggest bang for our buck," she said.

According to Mike Kostrzewa, Colorado Wind Application Center director, the loss of funding has meant that the program has entered an inactive phase that will impact new projects for the foreseeable future.

"I would say that the Colorado Wind for Schools program and the Wind Application Center are in a dormant phase," Kostrzewa said. "We don't have any funding. We're not actively pursuing an RFP process for projects, and we're not actively raising funds."

More Wind for Schools Case Studies