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Oberlin College group studying turbine feasibility

A recent announcement from the office of Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, OC ’73, could be a boon to those here in Oberlin seeking to generate greener electricity.

A press release on the governor’s website announced the creation of the Ohio Wind Production and Manufacturing Incentives, a program that will allot a total of $5 million in an effort to promote next-generation energy sources in Ohio. The Advanced Energy Fund and the Ohio Department of Development will put up the money. These incentives, which are available for a limit of five years, will give one cent for every kilowatt-hour generated to wind producers and 1.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to wind producers whose turbines employ Ohio-made parts. The program will grant funds to large, utility-scale production as well as to smaller, community-based projects. Applicants must be ready to begin production before December 31, 2008.

The Oberlin Wind Power Initiative, spearheaded by Professor John Scofield of the physics department and Mike Roth, OC ’06, has begun research into the feasibility of constructing a wind turbine in the Oberlin area. After compiling a year of data from their tower located just north of town, the group will assemble a business plan that will use a cost-benefit analysis to determine the most suitable level of production. If the data show the potential for effective wind production in Oberlin, the team will seek funding from the College, private investors and the city of Oberlin.

Roth claims that the most realistic way to get wind production underway in Oberlin is through a coalition of interest consisting of the college, the city and New Russia Township. However, Scofield does not believe that Oberlin will be able to begin production of wind power by the December 31, 2008 deadline of the governor’s program.

Oberlin recently committed to becoming climate neutral under the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. Meredith Dowling, OC ’06, assistant sustainability coordinator for Oberlin College, said, “investment in wind energy production would be an important step in achieving Oberlin’s goal of becoming climate neutral.”

Although Oberlin will not be able to benefit directly from the governor’s new incentives, Roth believes that the new government plan can help future Oberlin wind production. A main obstacle to wind power now is the high cost of constructing the turbines, largely resulting from the need to import expensive parts from Europe. As the new incentives encourage the manufacture of turbine parts in Ohio, the potential cost for Oberlin turbines could be greatly reduced when the Oberlin Wind Initiative is ready to begin production.

“Currently, in the United States, Ohio ranks second only to California in the potential for new job creation for manufacturing wind components,” said the governor’s office.

As these incentives will only last for five years and the normal period for a wind turbine to begin to return on the initial investment is 12-15 years, according to Scofield, the government may wish to engage in a new series of subsidies if these incentives prove successful. Therefore, although this round of incentives will not directly benefit Oberlin’s wind production, the new interest in wind energy demonstrated by the governor could mean greater local production of wind parts and the potential for more subsidies in the future.

By Michael Lemon
The Oberlin Review


23 February 2007