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The Scarlet & Black

Turbines Cometh

By Chris Lee

Last semester, President Kington signed the Presidential Climate Commitment, pledging to move Grinnell College towards carbon neutrality. If all goes well, three wind turbines will soon put us halfway there, the culmination of a student project begun over a decade ago in 1996. These turbines will produce 80 percent of the college’s electricity and will be complete in a little over two years.

The proposed wind farm will be located to the north, with “the actual turbines … located outside of the city limits,” said Chris Bair, Environmental and Safety Coordinator. Because of this, the project will not require a city building permit from Grinnell to continue the project, although negotiations with the local utilities are ongoing.

“I always think they could do more to encourage renewable energy,” said Bair, “but they are not throwing up any road blocks.” At present, the college has experimented with using renewable energy at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA). Thanks to a 50-kilowatt turbine installed in 2007 and a geothermal energy system, CERA is the first academic building in Iowa to receive a gold LEED environmental rating. Although a significant achievement, many think it’s time to aim higher. “I believe that we have both a social and environmental responsibility to build the turbines,” says Jackie Blair, chair of the Student Environmental Committee. “Peak oil is very real and now is the time for renewable energy to take the forefront in powering our country.”

According to Bair, “we have always been open to a number of renewable energy alternatives, but at the scale of an entire campus, wind makes the most economical sense.”

The College is also pursuing carbon neutrality through other means, such as retrofitting older buildings for increased efficiency and holding new construction to the same standard.

The College will maintain ownership of the turbines but will be contracting a qualified company to handle maintenance of the turbines. With any luck, classes and other initiatives at Grinnell will be able to integrate the wind farm into their own pushes for increased sustainability. Although the project has been in development for years, recent developments have changed things for the better.

“The downturn in the economy allowed access to more mainstream turbines … that were not available before in smaller quantities,” said Bair, citing turbines built by General Electric as an example.

Additionally, larger blades have become available for the turbines the college plans to use, meaning that they will be able to capture more energy than previous designs. While this will not make us carbon neutral yet, the college will continue to look for ways to trim down its footprint. The wind farm will cost approximately $10 million to construct. Kington’s blog notes that “the details of property easements [and] financial models … are currently being worked out … but we have a vision and a plan that is well along.”

“Students, staff, and faculty have … been talking about … this project for years. At this point, most of the details have been figured out, but we still need the monetary commitment,” says Bair. “The Student Environmental Committee is petitioning to show the Trustees that the student body is in support of the move toward renewable energy.”

On Friday morning, there will be a recommendation to the Board of the Trustees to continue moving forward with the project.

“This project has been talked about, researched, and planned for over 15 years,” says Blair. “Now is the time to decide if we are interested in making it happen.”

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    HarryFeb 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm