Three Cape schools seize the wind

Turbines at MMA, Upper Cape Tech, FA get renewable energy spinning

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 At any given time, the wind turbine at Falmouth Academy, behind the school building, generates between three and eight kilowatts of power.

 Projects cut electricity costs, offer opportunities for curriculum

By Sam Pearsall

Three Cape schools couldn't wait for the controversial Cape Wind project to get under way five miles offshore, so instead they brought wind power right to their own campuses.

turbine325_473_02Turbine at Falmouth Academy rises over trees.

Though very different in their approaches to teaching and education, Falmouth Academy, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School all can agree on at least one thing: wind energy.

Driving over the Bourne Bridge, anyone can see MMA's majestic, 242-foot, 660-kilowatt wind turbine twirling at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal.

This structure was installed in June 2006. Since then, the turbine has been operating up to expectations by reducing electricity costs by more than 27 percent and powering about a quarter of the campus. This translates to savings of an estimated $300,000 each year in electricity.

At MMA's Web site, maritime.edu, data collection from the turbine is updated in real-time and can be viewed by the public.

At present, more than 3 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, have been avoided. According to the Web site, this is the equivalent of what more than 47,000 houses produce in just one day, and the pollution an average car emits over almost 108,000 days.

Just a month before the MMA turbine was installed, and only miles away, Upper Cape Tech put up its own 80-foot, 10-kilowatt wind turbine.

Although it is much smaller, this turbine could power an average home. Massachusetts Technology Collaboration's Small Renewables Initiative (for projects generatging10 kilowatts or less) helped fund the institution's project with an award of more than $6,000.

Exactly one year after Mass Maritime set up its turbine, a much smaller school installed a much smaller turbine: 66 times smaller in fact, according to Richard Sperduto, director of maintenance at Falmouth Academy.

The academy, a 215-student school for grades seven through 12, now has a 92-foot turbine set 80 feet above sea level off Highfield Drive in Falmouth.

The total price was about $80,000, but like Upper Cape Tech, FA received a rebate from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative through the Small Renewables Initiative.

The award, however, at $47,000 was much larger than Upper Cape Tech's. The grant funded more than half the project.

Sperduto said he had pushed for renewable energy for quite a while, and went through the application process to receive the outside funding.

But the MTC's funding for small wind projects through the Small Renewables Initiative has since been eliminated.

Tyler Leeds, project manager for the program, said MTC since 2005 has helped fund almost one hundred small wind projects.

Unfortunately, the average production of the small turbines is about one third of what was projected.

Due to the underperformance of these small wind projects, MTC put a "temporary pause" on awards as last June and began implementing changes to the program to ensure the projects will be successful.

"At the end of January we are going to be launching our new revised Small Renewables Initiative. The new program will be a little different, really trying to focus on only the best projects in the best locations," Leeds said.

Under the new plan, customers will receive a portion of the rebate once the small turbine is installed, and then the complete incentive after the performance has been tracked for one year and is operating effectively.

"It's a learning opportunity," he said, "to determine if the project and site is financially worthwhile."

Sperduto, at Falmouth Academy, explained, "Predictions for production were much higher. We hoped to meet about five percent of our electricity needs and we're only getting two or three percent. These small turbines are much less predictable than large ones. If we had gone higher, we would have had better results."

Although Falmouth Academy's turbine stands nearly 100 feet tall, nearby trees are up to 40 feet high, which Sperduto said causes turbulence and constant change in wind direction. However, at any given time the turbine produces between three and eight kilowatts of power, the equivalent to one small household's worth of electricity.

"It's a step in the right direction," Sperduto said. He hopes in the next five years that a taller turbine will be installed in a larger and flatter area on FA's campus.

Even in the cases where turbines are not working up to their potential, students are still able to use data collected from them in the classroom and in their own independent projects. Math and science courses at Falmouth Academy incorporate the turbine into their work.

"Calculations are used to estimate the energy available in wind. And [our turbine] offers a real-life example of how these equations can be misleading," Sperduto said.

Some FA students are using the turbine studying barometric pressure and wind speeds at different elevations for the science fair this year.

MMA describes its turbine as "an educational tool for renewable energy career seekers."

Upper Cape Tech even created a renewable energy curriculum that focuses on wind energy, as well as solar thermal, photovoltaic, and biodiesel processing.

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