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Mahtomedi Zephyr Wind Project is communitywide effort

WindTurbineWide650px The 120-foot Mahtomedi Zephyr Wind Turbine stands tall at the Mahtomedi High School athletic field, generating power and serving as an educational tool for the community. Photo provided by Jeff Ledermann.

Turbine provides power, strong educational component

MAHTOMEDI - About six years ago, on a cool, windy fall evening at a Mahtomedi High School soccer game, parents sat huddled together, trying to stay warm. The group thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to produce something positive from the cool breezes—perhaps harvest the wind to produce clean energy and show our commitment to the environment?”

Several in that group took that idea to heart, organized with other community members to form the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative (MAGI), and today that dream is reality in the form of the Mahtomedi Zephyr Wind Turbine. A 10 kW, 120-foot wind turbine stands tall at the athletic field, generating power for the stadium’s lights and scoreboard and serving an even larger role as an educational tool for the community.

“It’s in a great location for catching the wind and for its visibility,” said Paul Hoff, a member of MAGI. “It sends a strong message that our community is committed to clean energy.”

“Indeed, it’s a source of pride for the people of Mahtomedi,” added Jeanne Zlonis, a MAGI member who helped lead fundraising for the project.

On the night the turbine was dedicated—September 8, 2011 before a Mahtomedi High School football game—the turbine’s effectiveness was showcased for all to see. “The turbine blades were turning even though the flags on the goalposts were still,” reported Hoff. “So the high tower was making a difference. The next Friday was another home game with a steadier breeze, and another large crowd watched a close game with the turbine powering the scoreboard and lights.”

Siting is key to small wind systems

That the turbine could catch a breeze on a seemingly windless night was proof positive that siting is key to any small wind system. “The MAGI group helped the city implement a thoughtful wind ordinance, one that allows a tower tall enough to access the wind resource and specifies a minimum clearance over nearby structures,” said Lise Trudeau, wind specialist for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources. “The tower used for the project was the tallest allowed by the permit, enabling the turbine to access the best wind resource available to the site. Since the turbine will be used primarily for educational purposes, it was important to set an example for good siting.”

boltingnose150pxThe siting was just one example of the collaborative effort to make the turbine project a success. From conceptualizing and fundraising to the site assessment and technical aspects of the turbine, the Mahtomedi wind project was a huge success in terms of rallying the entire community around it. It was a model in terms of community partnership, said Trudeau. MAGI volunteers, students, neighbors, businesses, schools, churches and local government bonded to build a base of support for the turbine.

“We had great support from the beginning,” said Hoff. “Our group developed an ordinance with the city staff that was consistent with our vision for a turbine of its size and height. And the ordinance enabled us to build within the city limits.  We credit the city’s support and willingness for making it work.”

Students rally support

Achieving buy-in from the community from the start made fundraising for the $100,000 project easier. Grants of $25,000 from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources and the U.S. Department of Energy (through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and $7,400 from the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team paid for about one third of the cost, while the remainder came through private donations from 200 households, several local businesses, the American Legion, eight foundations, and the Mahtomedi High School Eco Club.

“Students from the Eco Club were a driving force in fundraising and increasing awareness about the wind turbine,” said Jeff Ledermann, Eco Club advisor. “Students staffed several local events to educate the community about the project, reaching hundreds of people. They demonstrated their knowledge of renewable energy and let the community know that this project would provide a lifelong educational opportunity. That made fundraising a much easier sell.”

The electric power generation of the turbine is modest—between 12,000 and 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, or enough to power about 1.5 households for a year. The turbine provides power for the electric needs of the stadium—lights, the scoreboard, concession stand, and more.  Any excess power is fed into the Xcel Energy grid, with proceeds going to the school.

Educational role is primary

The greatest value of the turbine, however, is in its educational component. The Zephyr Wind Turbine, owned and maintained by the Mahtomedi Public Schools, serves as an educational tool for the Mahtomedi schools and their K-12 Engineering Leadership Program. It is equipped with performance and wind measuring devices that generate real-time data accessible via the Internet. Public viewing of the turbine’s data is available at Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative.

Teachers from around the state came to Mahtomedi in October 2011 for a two-day wind education workshop presented by Michael Arquin, founder of St. Paul-based KidWind. MAGI hosted the event with funding from a grant from Xcel Energy Foundation and a partnership with the University of Minnesota Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP). Teachers experienced the hands-on activities that KidWind has developed to help students learn about how wind energy works. Each teacher left the training with materials and lessons they could take back to their classrooms, along with $200 to spend on materials to help integrate wind lessons into classrooms and curriculum. Participants included six teachers from Mahtomedi and eight who work with students from the White Earth, Red Lake and Fond du Lac reservations.

Wind energy lessons are being incorporated into science classes for Mahtomedi students at all grade levels, K-12. For instance, Mahtomedi High School environmental science teacher Rita Childs says her class of juniors and seniors studies energy, with several lessons focusing on wind energy. Students are building mini wind turbines out of PVC and designing blades to see who can make a blade that delivers the most energy. In addition to the mechanical aspects of wind turbines, the students tour the on-campus turbine, discuss it, and view the live data—wind speed, energy generated to date in kilowatt hours, tons of CO2 saved, and more.
“The turbine has been a great teaching tool,” said Childs. “Anything that gets kids excited about science and energy is a welcome addition to our curriculum.”

The wind turbine also was featured at the school’s annual Mahtomedi Schools Engineering Day in November 2011, when 600 people attended. Tours of and information about the turbine were provided. More wind education opportunities are planned.

A fitting site for wind energy

Given that the Mahtomedi High School mascot is the zephyr, the Greek mythology god for the west wind, it was fitting that a wind turbine made its way to Mahtomedi.

“It was all in the cards,” said Hoff. “Our community was willing to do something innovative, and it’s something we can all be proud of. We hope it will benefit students for decades to come.”

The Mahtomedi Wind Turbine Project received a $25,000 grant from the ARRA School District and Local Government Renewable Energy Grant Program. The grant program was provided by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources and made possible by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Overall, ARRA programs provided more than $300,000 to help fund about 30 small wind projects for residences and businesses in Minnesota. Funds were fully expended by September 2011. For more information on small wind systems and other forms of renewable energy, please visit the Division of Energy Resources website or the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website.