Wind for Schools Pilot Project Results
In 2006, the Wind Powering America team based at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) launched a pilot project in Colorado to develop the Wind for Schools project model. The pilot project identified the key elements of a successful Wind for Schools project. This page summarizes these elements, as well as lessons learned that can be helpful for others planning Wind for Schools turbine installations.
Identify a Champion
A project cannot succeed without a local project champion, an individual, or group to keep the key players in the community informed, cooperating, and moving toward project goals. During the Colorado pilot project, the Wind Powering America team learned that the project development stages of learning finance agreements, power purchase agreements, permitting, obtaining equipment, construction, and operations and maintenance can be lengthy and time consuming. Local politics, personalities, and public opinion are always involved, and a local project champion is essential to move the project forward.
Select Sites with Good Wind Resources
An excellent wind resource should be a project prerequisite. Wind Powering America selected Colorado for the pilot project because of the excellent wind resource on the eastern plains. In addition, rural Colorado areas could benefit from economic development. The team members contacted 17 school districts (indicated on the map with stars) that are in or near areas of good wind resources. They analyzed the wind resource at or near the schools, examined the school utility bills, and discussed the economic viability of projects.
Be Flexible with your Project Model
Local situations and preferences will determine the project model. In Colorado, team members discussed the following three basic project models (and many permutations of each) with the communities. Each required a different wind resource, financial arrangements, and partnerships.
- Behind the meter, in which a wind turbine is sized to less than the school load and is used to decrease energy bills
- A community-scale turbine
- Piggybacking, in which the school or community develops a financial agreement with a nearby large-scale wind farm.
Choose Partners Throughout the Community
Successful partnerships increase the likelihood of a successful project. In Colorado, the Wind Powering America team offered school districts and their communities the assistance of a team of professionals who understand wind technology and projects. The Colorado pilot project partners are defined below; in other states, partners may include similar entities.
- Assembled the partners to work with the schools and their communities
- Analyzed the schools' wind resource and utility bills to advise them on the practical issues of system performance and potential cost savings
- Assembled a standard system to offer the schools
- Provided technical assistance on project planning, selecting a site, installing a system, and connecting it to the grid
- Provided training for Colorado science teachers who are ready to include wind in their curricula.
Much of NREL's groundbreaking work during the Colorado pilot project was also applicable to other state projects and continues to be utilized.
In Colorado, Field Advocate for Sustainability Tom Potter worked with communities in eastern Colorado, particularly with farm organizations and economic development specialists, to help communities understand renewable energy project options and their impacts. He then worked with school stakeholders on the Eastern Plains to move Wind for Schools projects forward. The consultant role evolved into the position of state facilitator, which is now in place in all Wind for Schools project states. Facilitators identify candidate K-12 host schools, work with the local communities and school administrators, and work with Wind Powering America and the Wind Application Centers to help secure funding and implement each project.
Southwest Windpower, an international manufacturer of small wind systems, supplied turbines for the Colorado pilot project schools and continues to be a partner to this day. Southwest offers schools a discounted wind turbine, guyed tower, grid interconnect hardware, and display unit for the standard system.
A national company that develops wind farms and sells renewable energy certificates (commonly known as "green tags"), Community Energy provided much of the cost of the standard system during the Colorado pilot project. The company markets Colorado Rural Green Tags from the Lamar Light & Power wind farm throughout the state and hopes to use proceeds from these sales to support more wind turbines at schools.
Western Resource Advocates
A regional conservation law and policy organization that encourages the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Interior West, Western Resource Advocates has worked with utilities throughout the region to develop and implement green power programs, including Xcel Energy's Windsource program. Western sold Colorado Rural Green Tags to businesses and households on the Front Range and in rural Colorado to make the pilot project installations economically feasible.
Rural schools are often connected to a renewable energy co-op. They have a low avoided cost, and net metering may not be welcome. Gaining the support of the local utility or rural electric cooperative can greatly increase the likelihood of a successful project.
The School and Community
Communities support their schools, and it is very important that the community is a full partner in designing the project and in paying for much of it. All interested parties in the community must understand what is required for a school wind project to succeed and the role that each of them plays in the success of the endeavor. These parties may include school board members, city government, the local utility, economic development interests, and other interested parties (e.g., energy service companies, farmers, agriculture extension agents).
Research Economic Options and Challenges
Wind energy development is complex; although there is an appearance of financial risk, schools have access to many funding mechanisms. The Wind Powering America team discussed financing options with each school district in Colorado. The team learned that the school district often has access to low-cost loans for facilities enhancement or improvement. Local and state grant monies may be available, and it is not unusual to find private or community donors willing to participate.
A net metering arrangement is necessary for a small wind turbine. This arrangement delineates how a school will be credited on its utility bill for the electricity it generates. For larger turbines, the sale of excess electricity to the local utility through a power purchase agreement is critical. The limits, arrangements, and amount the utility will pay for the electricity vary from utility to utility and must be discussed on a case-by-case basis.
Renewable energy certificates represent the environmental benefits of generating electricity using wind (or other renewable energy) systems. There is a growing market for the certificates, and they add a revenue stream to the project.
Be Aware of Local and State Policies
A variety of policies at the state or local level can impact a school wind policy. These policies include:
- Renewable portfolio standards
- Buy-down programs or tax benefits
- Net metering policies
- Permitting and zoning
- Environmental policies.
These policies should be reviewed as they will impact the feasibility and nature of the project. Favorable policies can make a big difference to the success of a project. A demand charge tariff can be a disincentive.
Evaluate the Wind System
NREL staff assembled a standard Wind for School system that consists of a SkyStream 3.7, 2.4-kW wind turbine on a 70-ft guyed or 60-ft monopole tower. More information on the wind for school system can be found in the Wind for Schools Project Power System Brief. This turbine system was selected based on the following attributes:
- Manageable size (the nameplate power capacity is small enough to not present a net-metering conflict with the local utility or power cooperative and to allow installation using local resources)
- Primary AC power production (ensures simple interconnection with a school's electrical systems)
- Guyed lattice and monopole tower options at multiple heights
- Integrated data acquisition capabilities with Web-based monitoring capabilities
- Manageable total system cost that includes significant turbine price discounts from the manufacturer
- Proven company track record with a commitment to expand support for school-based wind systems and a nationwide support infrastructure to allow installation, warrantee, and maintenance support.
Other turbine technologies and sizes would be applicable, but they should be selected for their ability to meet the basic requirements listed above and to provide performance data for other Wind for Schools partners.