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Monday, April 12, 2010

Science lessons bring energy to life

From an article in the Wausau Daily Herald:

When Wausau East High School senior Maddy Schwede goes to school in the morning, she almost always glances up.

She's looking to see if, 155 feet in the air, the giant propeller of the school's Northwind 100 wind turbine is spinning. If it is, she knows the school is making electricity.

"It definitely catches your eye," Schwede said.

The wind power generator was installed in October, and a second, smaller turbine soon will be put up. A solar panel that moves with the sun also is producing green energy on the site.

It all will cost about $650,000, mostly funded by grants from the Walter Alexander Foundation and Wisconsin Focus on Energy. Once they're all running, the three units are expected to save the district more than $14,000 a year on its electricity bills. If so, it'll take a little more than 46 years for the system to start making money beyond its cost.

But for students, teachers and those who helped make the wind turbine installation a reality, the money part of the project isn't the point.

Instead, the ultimate hope is that a student will look up at the turbine like Schwede does and will feel a spark of imagination. She'll learn about alternative energy in an environmental science class, learn about the design of a propeller in a technical education class and learn about the principles involved in producing electricity in a physics class.

And then she'll go the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or another school and learn more. And maybe, just maybe, she'll design a better turbine or a more effective solar panel that eventually will help make green, sustainable energy production a mainstream endeavor, instead of a niche area.

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