The teenagers involved with the Cochrane High School Sustainable Development Committee weren’t looking for a controversy. Yet controversy is what their wind turbine project has stirred up in the town of Cochrane, northwest of Calgary.
The students’ plan was simple, straightforward – or so they thought. Fundraise $45,000. Install a small 5-kilowatt wind turbine on the school property. Harness the power of Mother Nature to nearly double their school’s electrical production from renewable energy sources. Have a positive impact on the environment, be responsible citizens, et cetera.
But when the group of eco-conscious students in grades 10 to 11 introduced the project to the community in spring 2012, they realized they weren’t going to get universal support. “It was apparent from the first meeting that there were individuals who were not pleased,” says Stephanie Bennett, a biology and science teacher who is an adviser for the committee. Opponents cited concerns about noise and visual impact.
It’s not the high school committee’s first energy-production initiative. Cochrane High School already has a 0.4-kW turbine, as well as solar panels. And the students didn’t anticipate any problems because the wind turbine they’ve got their eye on, a Phase VII Evance R9000, isn’t anywhere near as big as the enormous megawatt turbines you’d see on a wind farm. The 5-kW turbine they want to install would stand about 18 metres high, with a rotor blade that’s about 5.5 metres, tip to tip.
Still, the opposition has forced the committee to do its homework. The teens have done more research on potential impact, consulted with an acoustic specialist in the UK and held an empathy session to try to understand stakeholders’ points of view.
They even had an identical prototype rotor shipped up from Iowa for an Earth Day display. They mounted the rotor on a pole in the gym so people could see what the turbine might look like.
“One of the main comments was, ‘I thought it was going to be bigger,’ ” Bennett says.
The group of 25 students feels satisfied its turbine won’t pose any negative impact. Nevertheless, some community members remain opposed and have formed an opposition group: the No Turbine in Town Coalition, or NTT for short, which includes residents living in close proximity to the school. The NTT has outlined numerous concerns, including the safety of the turbine on a school property (especially in temperatures below -20C), nuisance factors including noise and solar flicker off the blades, health risks from wind turbines, and the potential negative impact on property values. The conflict has put a stall on the students’ project while city council develops a renewable energy bylaw framework. Bennett has been told that could take until the end of 2014.
The Cochrane High School Sustainable Development Committee’s ongoing efforts to get the 5-kW wind turbine installed is the reason the group is a finalist for a 2013 Emerald Award in the youth category. The province-wide awards, administered by the Alberta Emerald Foundation, recognize exceptional commitment to green initiatives. Winners will be announced at a gala in Edmonton on June 6.
“Generally we like to reward programs with tangible results,” says Emmy Stuebing, executive director of the Alberta Emerald Foundation, “but this is an exception to the rule.”
Stuebing says it’s the teenagers’ perseverence, dedication and “sticking-to-it” that’s earned them a spot in the finals.
“The fact they’re standing up for what they believe in is what impressed the judges,” she says. “In spite of the controversy, in spite of some of the community members pushing back, the students and teachers are still working to make it happen.”
Bennett says it’s “awesome” to be a contender for an Emerald Award. “I think these kids truly deserve to be recognized. It’s been a stellar performance. It’s been an honour to be an adviser to these upstanding people.”
The teenagers’ determination and courage has been an inspiration to Bennett and her fellow adviser Joan Wiliams-Mann, a social studies teacher. “The kids have been absolutely resilient and diplomatic every step of the way,” Bennett says.
In all likelihood, most of the students will have graduated and moved on before it’s decided whether or not the wind turbine project goes forward. But the whole shmozzle has been a valuable lesson in the way things work in the real world.
“This is the democratic process,” Bennett says. “They are learning it first-hand.”
The Alberta Emerald Foundation was founded in 1991 to promote and celebrate outstanding and innovative environmental stewardship by individuals, community groups, business, industry and government in Alberta. The Emerald Awards are its flagship initiative. This year’s winners will be revealed at a gala at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre on Thursday, June 6. The Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald have created a partnership to produce a series about several of this year’s finalists. Articles will appear on Saturdays until June 8.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding