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Milford High School Turns Windy into Windustry

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Top left: Mr. Swapp retrieving data from a meteorological tower. Top right: Students Tyson Sherwood affixing an anemometer for a comparison study; Chris Manuele holding a rotor blade. Bottom right: The Skystream wind turbine from Milford Elementary.

Milford High School Turns Windy into Windustry

Date: 4/6/2007

Location: Milford, UT

The wind in Milford, Utah, is often cursed by farmers and other community members trying to escape its powerful force. A teacher and group of students at Milford High School discovered a way to turn that pesky wind into something more pleasing: a quarter of a billion dollars.

It all started about 4 years ago when Andy Swapp, an engineering and technology teacher at Milford High School, decided to teach his students about wind energy by showing them how energy is produced by turbines that turn generators to produce electricity.

"I had plowed up a field and the wind blew so hard it picked up the top soil and blasted the paint off my barn. I thought, wow, that's a powerful wind! Teaching kids about wind energy might make a good class project," Swapp said.

To learn about wind speed, the students started small with handheld wind-measuring devices. They later received a small 20-meter tower with an anemometer, a device that measures air speed, from the state anemometer loan program. Swapp asked his eighth graders to help him set it up on his farm and experiment with data collection.

"We used geometry's Pythagorean theorem to set the anchors and the base for the tower. On the bus trip back, I heard some of my students talking about math and how excited they were to be able to use it in real life. That was the crowning moment for me, to see the theory coming to life for these kids and the light bulb coming on," Swapp said.

Soon the students were using the data they collected from the anemometer to create wind pattern maps for their area.

"As soon as the tower went up, commercial developers and engineers were knocking on my door asking me what I was doing," Swapp said. "I told them I was collecting wind data, and they asked me if I would share the data with them. My class then became a data collection center. The developer bought us a 50-meter tower, and then a 166-foot tower to map air speed."

The students erected a small H100 wind turbine to power the sports utility shed at the high school with the help of a donation from Southwest Windpower. Then Swapp heard that Southwest Windpower was looking for beta testers for its new Skystream 3.7 wind turbine. The developer who had been using Swapp's class as a data collection center wrote a letter for the class and helped convince Southwest Windpower that the kids would make great beta testers. After 6 months of testing, the students were able to purchase the turbine for $2500 by convincing the school director that it would make a great teaching tool. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Utah office then gave Swapp's class a $5,000 grant to install a tower and the 1.8-kW turbine at Milford Elementary School. The turbine arrived grid-tied and ready to go. Swapp said the students simply ran wires into the circuit breaker.

"My kids are experts now on wind devices, but we never suspected the big business it would generate."

What began as a small school project on wind energy ended by attracting a wind farm developer with a quarter of a billion dollars. The new wind farm will have an estimated 80 turbines that are expected to produce 200 megawatts (MW) of power. A new transmission line is planned to Delta to sell power to California. Construction of the new wind farm is planned to begin in early 2008.

Swapp said being part of the development of a new wind farm was like "bringing home the state champion in football" for the high school students.

"The students do better, the hallways are cleaner. Students are proud of the school now and the recognition it has received from the news media. They also have something to put in their resumes that will follow them the rest of their life. They are modern-day pioneers," he said.

That pioneering spirit was used by the high school students to educate and convince local opposition about the benefits of the wind farm. They also gave a presentation to the local city council, planning and zoning commission, and county commissioners about wind energy and the benefits the wind farm could bring to the community. By presenting their project to these groups early on, it helped the decision-makers feel more informed about the process when the developers applied to the county commission for the wind farm development.

The new wind farm has also helped the Milford community by making it the leader in the technology in the state, a status that will create jobs for the future.

"The key is to make the technology familiar to students today because they are going to be running our government in the future," Swapp said. "Even if it's just a simple classroom model turbine, people shouldn't refer to it as 'alternative energy' because it's not. It's mainstream."

This information was last updated on December 05, 2013