CHARLESTON – The Oregon Institute of Marine Biology is giving wind energy a go on its campus, located near the mouth of Coos Bay. But, the effort is as much about saving energy as it is saving money.
Late last year, a simple, white wind turbine started rising above the new marine museum and aquarium building that is nearing completion alongside the Charleston Marina.
In answer to the obvious chicken or egg question, the director of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology said the idea for the wind turbine goes back awhile.
Dr. Craig Young said the two projects have kind of gone hand in hand.
“(It) was in the back of our mind for a long time,” he said. “In fact, when we had just built a small part of the building, I started talking to people in the architecture department at the University (of Oregon) about sustainable energy solutions that we might be able to highlight in the building.
“We talked about a water turbine, in the fish ladder. At one point, we talked about solar panels on the roof. And, my preference was always wind, because it is so windy out there, during the summer time especially.”
The UO established an Office of Sustainability in 2007 to help with just such a project. Director Steve Mital and his staff help set goals, monitor progress, make policy recommendations and support faculty initiatives, among other things.
In this case, Mital also spearheaded the search for needed grant funding.
He estimates the entire project will finish in the $125,000 to $130,000 range. Of that, they received $86,500 from a Blue Sky grant through Pacific Power, and another $30,000 from a private donor. The university will pick up the rest.
The ramifications of the project, however, go far beyond just the dollars and cents from one structure in Charleston.
“It’s really one small step for the U of O, and one giant step for wind energy on the South Coast,” Mital said by phone this week.
“We stand now as an example. Folks can come to us for answers to questions about starting their own wind energy project.”
Mital said, in fact, this could be the first “net-zero” building in Coos County. That means all of the energy needed to operate the museum and aquarium is expected to be generated on site.
They estimate that the single wind turbine will generate about 27,000 kilowatt-hours annually.
That would, Mital said, accomplish one of the three goals they have for the project, the other two being the aforementioned paving of the way for future wind energy projects, while also creating an educational element on the South Coast.
It is believed that some 10,000 visitors will walk through the doors of the new Charleston Marine Life Center, and all will get a crash course in sustainable wind energy.
The educational element certainly appealed to OIMB’s director.
“It was attractive to me, not only because we could put out a message about saving energy, but also because I’ve got to figure out how to run this center and by having something that is going to take care of the electric bills that is just one more thing that I don’t have to worry about,” Young said.
“All of that will be highlighted on a digital display in the Marine Life Center, so people can both look at the wind turbine, and go over into the center and find out how much is being generated, how much has been generated during the course of the year, and what the energy consumption is in the building.”
The wind turbine is currently connected to a meter on campus, so it is already paying dividends even as final work on the building is progressing toward an opening date later this year.
“It’s putting energy into the campus and anything that exceeds that circuit actually goes back into the grid, where we get credit for it with our electric bills,” he said.
“So, we are keeping track of every bit of electricity that is generated.”
The answer to just how much that will be, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind.
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