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Renewing education with renewable energy

Posted by The NativeEnergy Team on Jul 19, 2011
Tags: carbon projects, indiana wind project, wind energy

Most high schools don’t have demo wind turbines in their gyms, where students can learn climbing safety and other skills. But that’s the least of the cool technology at Union City Community High (UCCHS), home of the Indiana Community Wind Project. This small school in rural Indiana also boasts a 1 kilowatt windmill, solar panels, and a utility-scale wind turbine that generates revenue for the school budget.

The person who started it all is John Zakelj, a science teacher with a passion for renewable energy. He wanted to interest his students in math and science by connecting them to a real world project. In 2007, after countless hours of planning and the receipt of a DOE grant, the school installed a small, on-site windmill and solar panels. This equipment now powers the school and provides original data for John’s classes.

The windmill is highly visible—it’s located just outside the school, which generates curiosity in addition to electricity. “Students always ask “’How much energy is that producing?’” John noted.

After seeing the educational and financial benefits of the installation, Randolph Eastern School Corporation and the City of Union City broadened their commitment. With the help of developer Performance Systems, Inc. and the promise of carbon offset revenues, they decided to construct two utility-scale wind turbines. NativeEnergy has stepped up to provide the necessary carbon offset funding. These 1 megawatt turbines began operating in October 2010, and they are already providing income for the school and city.

Now that the large turbines are running, the educational opportunities are also moving full speed ahead. UCCHS has partnered with Ivy Tech Community College to offer a dual credit program in wind power, with some courses taught, of course, by John Zakelj.

Meanwhile, John continues to engage students through classroom projects and on-site training. The teenagers have created generators with magnets, practiced climbing in the demo turbine, and competed to design efficient model turbine blades. Soon, he hopes to make biodiesel with students and even construct a methane digester.

The benefits of connecting young adults with renewable energy are numerous, but there have been unexpected surprises as well. “Our projects have brought a lot of positive attention to the school,” John said. “The kids are excited about the media attention, and they’ve learned a lot about media exposure. They’ve also gained the opportunity to meet professionals and government officials. Even our senator came to visit the school.”

As UCCHS trains the next generation of energy engineers, they also have a lot to teach us about success in education.

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