The Physical Plant is looking to turn blustery days into university dollars.
University officials have applied for a $30,000 grant to investigate the feasibility of building a 2.5-megawatt wind generator on campus, said Justin Harrell, a Physical Plant electrical engineer.
If awarded the grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the university could begin studying the possibility of building a wind turbine as early as this summer, Harrell said.
The turbine, which is estimated to cost $6 million, would supply the university with about 6 percent of its electricity, Harrell said.
SIUC’s coal-powered plant generates 12 percent to 15 percent of the energy consumed on campus.
The turbine would reduce the university’s consumption of energy it buys from other sources, thus saving money in the long run, he said.
The Physical Plant has chosen a field on the west side of campus near the McLafferty Annex as a possible location for the generator.
The most significant part of the study, Harrell said, would be tracking the local wind to find out if the turbine would produce enough energy to make the project worthwhile. Monitoring equipment will be placed on top of a high-elevation tower to observe the wind speed and direction, he said.
“It would be at least three months – up to a year – before we would know whether or not there is enough wind for a utility scale turbine,” Harrell said.
Physical Plant Director Phil Gatton said the wind turbine is an attractive idea because it produces energy cleanly. However, there might be negative reactions from those that don’t find it aesthetically pleasing, he said.
“I figure the environmentalists would be happy with me but all the people that are going to look up and see this 500-foot tower might not like it,” he said.
Matt Malten, sustainability coordinator at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said UIUC has seen a mostly positive reaction to its similar wind generation project. The university has conducted a feasibility study and is now attempting to procure three turbines, each of which could produce up to 1.5 megawatts of electricity, he said.
Malten said UIUC officials held meetings with the leadership of the local community to address questions and concerns about the project. Local residents, particularly those who live close to the turbines, typically have questions and concerns, he said.
He said a 240-turbine wind farm under construction west of Champaign-Urbana has made local residents more accustomed to the turbines.
“I think, in general, the public is getting more used to the idea of having these structures in the vicinity,” he said.
Although UIUC received a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Malten said the university paid for about $3.4 million of the project. He said UIUC students also voted by referendum to create a $2 per semester fee to help pay for the project.
Harrell said a wind turbine might not be the most cost effective way to make the university more energy efficient, but it could help in other ways.
“(Other methods) might save us a little bit more, but there wouldn’t be any educational benefit whatsoever because it would be invisible to everyone,” he said.
24 April 2007
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