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Camden School's Wind Turbine Generates Savings - and International Recognition
06/03/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

It's impossible to miss the 120-foot-tall wind turbine towering above the playing fields at Camden Hills Regional High School. The structure went up last year - the culmination of several years' planning and fund-raising by students and staff at the school, and a constant physical reminder of their commitment to clean energy and lower power bills. It's a commitment which has cut thousands of dollars from the mid-coast school's annual power bill, and won it national, and international recognition. Tom Porter reports.

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Camden School's Wind Turbine Generates Savings - a Listen
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Winds are low on the day I visit, but the 69-foot blades are still turning - albeit slowly - and producing power.

"They're producing about 7,000 or 8,000 watts right now," says Keith Rose - not a huge amount, he says, but better than nothing.

Rose is facilities director at Camden Hills Regional High School. He's also the longest-serving member of the Windplanners. Not to be confused with the Windjammers - which is the nickmake for the school's sports teams - the Windplanners is a group of students established nine years ago with the goal of reducing the school's power bills by harnassing sustainable energy.

The school moved to this newly-built location about a mile west of downtown Rockport in 2000. It was great to be in brand new premises, says Rose, but there was one big problem: "Our energy use was about double what we had expected."

IMG_0530By 2004, it was clear to staff and students that something needed to be done about reducing reducing energy costs. "And so they started looking at the feasibility of some aspect of renewable energy," says teacher Margo Murphy (right).

She says the decision was made to look at wind as an option. Murphy is a science teacher at Camden Hills, and for the past five years has been running the Windplanners, which currently comprises about 25 students. Both Murphy and the Windplanners group have recently been honored with national awards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It took years of effort, however, for the turbine to become a reality. Back in 2006, with the help of UMass Amherst's Renewable Energy Lab, the Windplanners set up a meteorological tower on campus to collect more than a year's worth of wind data.

Once the viability of a turbine had been established, it was for time the Windplanners to go about making it happen. And, as Murphy explains, this was a multi-faceted process.

"Having the wind data, the kids then had to work with the school board to get approval to even start this project," she says. "So they worked through the concept approval with the school board and they started fund-raising at that point, just to see whether there was a willingness to support this out in the greater community."

Over the next few years, the Windplanners learned not just about the design and installation of wind turbines, they learned how to raise funds, how to write grant applications and how to use the data they've collected to convince the community that this is a good idea.

For junior Kiera Haining, this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Windplanner. "We've done so much public outreach with the community through grants and presentations with the school board, and that's been a huge factor," she says.

In March of last year, the $500,000 Northwind 100 turbine went up. Since then it's produced 77,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and saved the school about $9,000 in energy costs - which is about 8 percent of total annual power bill.

But the work of the Windplanners does not end there, says Haining. "Since the wind turbine has been installed we've been trying to reduce our school's total energy usage to increase the percentage of energy that the wind turbine is accounting for," she says.

In a word, this means efficiency. And this is where Island Institute has stepped in to help. The institute is a non-profit that promotes sustainable living in Maine's coastal communities, and through a program called Energy for ME, which is funded by the EPA and the National Science Foundation, has helped Camden Hills High further reduce its power bills.

On top of the impact of the turbine itself, the program introduced measures such as LED lighting, energy efficient tranformers, improved monitoring of power usage and increasing the awareness of energy usage.

In all, the efforts of the Windplanners have saved the school $27,000 in energy costs over the past year. The Island Institute's Ruth Kermish Allen, however, says the benefit of the program goes beyond the financial aspect.

"In reality, it's really helping the kids learn a great, great deal," she says. "So it's that process of learning through fundaising, through analyzing, and now through Energy for ME to kind of bring it back home. So they have this magnificent wind turbine up there. Now, how can they continue to make changes in their building and their life to save even more energy?"

And of course there's also the "coolness" factor.

"Probably one of the coolest things is just having the turbine on campus," says Senior Eliot Grigo. Grigo hopes the group's efforts will permanently alter the way people in the community regard renewable energy.

"The most amazing idea to me is that generations that come through the high school will just see the turbine on campus and think 'this is normal,'" he says.

The Windplanners efforts are also being recognized on the global stage. Eliot Grigo is one of five Camden Hills students heading to Sweden later this month to represent the U.S. in an international environmental contest sponsored by auto maker Volvo. They'll be competing alongside finalists from seven other countries for a first prize of $10,000.

Photos:  Tom Porter.



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