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ISSUE 117 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 5/7/2004

Energy plans set in motion: Sustainable Task Force applies for wind turbine grant

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor


Friday, May 7, 2004

A wind turbine might dominate Northfields horizon next year, as St. Olafs Sustainability Task Force is investigating the possibility of harnessing wind energy to power the campus.

The proposed 1.65 mega-watt wind turbine could produce six million kilowatt hours of energy per year, reducing St. Olafs annual fossil fuel energy consumption by up to one third, according to Pete Sandberg, director of facilities and head of the Sustainability Task Force.

The task force recently submitted a grant proposal to Xcel Energy, St. Olafs current energy provider, and will find out this summer whether or not the wind turbine will be financially feasible. Following that, the Board of Regents must approve the plan.

Sandberg, who has spent considerable time studying locations in and around Northfield to see if there is adequate wind potential for such an investment, said that there are two possibilities for the placement of the turbine. One is directly west of campus in the field behind Ytterboe Residence Hall; the other is in the Dakota County property across North Avenue in Northfield, north of St. Olaf.

Current cost projections are in the millions of dollars. Sandberg said that the original model could have cost as much $1.8 million, but because the turbines location will hopefully be on St. Olaf-owned property, the school will not have to sell and repurchase its own energy from a utility company. The final amount will not be known until this summer, if the grant is accepted.

Elise Braaten 04, one of the students on the Sustainability Task Force, explained that St. Olafs situation makes it an ideal candidate for making use of wind energy.

"We are in a really good location. Because of wind mapping and the way our current energy system works, we have a loop that we can feed directly into," Braaten said. "So we'd really be directly powered by wind, rather than the energy just going into the [city-wide] grid and used and distributed by Xcel."

Sandberg said that the turbine will be used exclusively by the St. Olaf campus, but will indirectly benefit both the town of the Northfield and Xcel, by "taking six million kilowatt hours [of energy] out of the town for the year" and freeing up space for other investors.

Faculty members and students involved with the development of this project believe that the advantages strongly outweigh the initial costs.

Jim Farrell, history professor and director of American studies and another member of the Sustainability Task Force, has been closely involved with developing the grant proposal during this past school year.

He believes that the trend towards wind energy is a practical one.

"This is what America will look like in 50 or 100 years," Farrell said. "Were running out of fossil fuels."

Braaten, also a co-head of Environmental Coalition, said that she is dedicated to making the campus more environmentally friendly for the future and foresees a definite need for the wind turbine.

"The future of our energy needs is going to have to be in alternative and renewable sources," Braaten said.

Farrell also sees the wind turbine as an opportunity for St. Olaf to demonstrate its stance on environmental issues.

"Institutions can teach by how they operate and what they do," Farrell said. "[The wind turbine] will say something significant about how St. Olaf instructs its students."

Braaten agreed that bringing a wind turbine to campus will set an example

for other colleges.

"Not only is it environmentally friendly, but St. Olaf could really benefit from making such a strong statement about our concern for the environment and making our campus more sustainable," Braaten said. "Higher education institutions really need to take a leadership role in sustainability and we are in a great position to do so here&"

Britt Carlson 04, another co-head of Environmental Coalition, agreed that this situation is ideal for St. Olaf to make an assertion about its sustainability.

"The benefits will be local, renewable, reliable power, a teaching tool, and an example for other small towns and colleges to follow," Carlson said.

In addition to cost barriers, Farrell anticipates possible resistance from neighbors who might consider the turbine "unsightly."

"I think its gorgeous because its functional," Farrell said

During the course of the year, the Sustainability Task Force has been working with ReNew Northfield, a local grassroots organization.

According to its website, the group is interested in "exploring the options available to promote local development of renewable energy resources."

Neighboring Carleton College has also been finalizing plans for a wind turbine and will be getting one this fall, although it will be smaller than the one that St. Olaf is considering and will not feed directly into its energy loop.





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