WOODSTOCK – A project that will place a 55-foot wind turbine next to Central High School may need to find another location before it receives the approval of the Shenandoah County School Board.
School officials liked what they heard from those involved in the plan during a board meeting Tuesday night, but safety concerns at the proposed location next to Central, primarily expressed by Chairman Gary Rutz, make it a priority for the wind proponents to at least seek an alternative location before a board vote on the matter takes place, likely next month.
“I know it’s not supposed to fall down, but if something did happen, I have a real hard time putting my approval on this if something did happen in the future,” Rutz said.
As for the turbine idea itself, he and everyone else were encouraged. A trio of teachers and several students have worked with staff from James Madison University to be a part of Wind Powering America’s Wind for Schools initiative. Its purpose is to raise awareness in rural parts of the country about the benefits of wind energy by placing turbines at K-12 schools. Eleven states currently participate, and 17 wind systems have been installed.
JMU students, three of whom were at Tuesday’s meeting, serve as energy consultants for Central.
The proposed turbine, which would be a monopole with six-foot-long blades that can produce enough energy to light one classroom for an entire year, would be in an open area also near W.W. Robinson Elementary School.
“Every time you come on our campus,” high school ecology teacher Meredith Bauserman said, “it’ll be one of the first things you’ll see.”
The energy produced, about 452 kilowatts a year, is not much, JMU representatives said, but it’s the educational component that matters more – science Standards of Learning tests are addressed for elementary, middle and high school students; Triplett Business and Technical Institute electrical students will be involved with installation, inspection and maintenance; and the community will have a better understanding of alternative energy.
The cost is about $16,500, and through several funding sources the local need would be no more than $4,000, said Remy Luerssen, a JMU employee who serves as the director of education and outreach and state facilitator for Wind for Schools in Virginia. Central would raise the money, she said, leaving the school system with no financial obligation.
But the board still must approve construction – and the town must later sign off on the plan – and Rutz was vocal about the need to be cautious. He said another concern he has is if Bauserman and the other teachers involved left and the next set of educators were not as enthusiastic about the turbine. Luerssen said the plan is to train multiple teachers to avoid that situation.
Another site option is near the softball field next to Peter Muhlenberg Middle School, but the Central spot was found to be best in terms of cost – the turbine’s energy won’t be used by itself, but rather it will be hooked into the existing system, meaning it needs to be closer to an electrical component – and wind production. The wind comes from the west, Bauserman said, and the Central site offers a clear view from that direction.
Luerssen said JMU is also working with Harrisonburg, Luray and the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School. She assured school officials that safety should not be a concern.
“These things don’t fall down,” Luerssen said. “It just doesn’t happen.”
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