Henley Middle School Turns on Its New Wind Turbine

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Everybody at Henley Middle School was outside in the field where their new 45-foot tall wind turbine power generator is installed for a dedication ceremony for the school’s Renewable Energy Resource Center on Dec. 10. In an assembly later they also celebrated their new solar hot water panels and solar voltaic panels. The crowd gave a standing ovation to school librarian Sue Guerrant, who was credited with leading the effort for the center. Student Lindsey Snoddy also got a warm round of applause.

“Everybody pitched in to make this happen,” principal Pat McLaughlin told the crowd outside looking up at the sleek form of the blades, which have about a five-or six-foot wingspan and curved tips. When the wind blows, power produced by the turbine goes into the school’s supply and a real-time meter displayed in the school’s lobby shows how much electricity the turbine is producing. With web-based monitoring, other schools will be able to follow data on the turbine’s performance, too.

The system, a Skystream 3.7, was installed with a $211,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, $40,000 raised by the Henley school community and $35,000 from the county school budget. Henley is the second school in the state to get the DMME grant.

“Being able to see the turbine should allay some people’s worries about the appearance of turbines,” said White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek, who was on hand to watch. The tower does not seem obtrustively tall.

Jonathan Miles, a professor of engineering at James Madison University and director of its Center for Wind Energy, which assisted the school in getting the turbine installed, said the turbine should save the school “hundreds of dollars per year” on its power bill. He predicted actual generation over a year to be in the range of 2,500 kilowatt hours.

“Ideally this turbine would be at 60 feet or higher,” Miles said. “It would blow more often and more energetically.” A tower must be at least 20 above any nearby tree line, he said, and in an unobstructed area. The turbine has a life span of 20 years with regular maintenance.

“Turbine design is headed toward direct drive and the gearboxes used in earlier designs are being dispensed with,” he explained. A Skystream 3.7 would cost a homeowner about $18,000, Miles said.

“For these towers to be viable in rural areas we are going to have to have [rule] flexibility,” said Miles. “We have other structures that are as tall as the turbine or taller—telephone poles, light poles. You’re really not adding much visually,” he asserted, “and you need the height for better efficiency.” The Skystream’s blades have a special sweep design that keeps them short, he said. He agreed with Mallek that seeing the turbine in person would settle most people’s fears about whether it was intrusive.

Virginia is one 11 states extending across the country from Alaska to Montana and Colorado to Virginia where regional wind data on North America is being collected, Miles said. A turbine at North Branch School in Afton is also providing data.

Miles said that turbine farms, perhaps floating, are possible off the Virginia coast and that Virginia Dominion Power is likely to build a power station three miles off shore (beyond the state’s territorial limit) to be a connection point for turbine energy produced in a zone about 20 to 30 miles offshore. Navy concerns govern where farms might be possible. A tower 12 miles from land is out of visual range, Miles said.

The coupling of the solar and wind systems at Henley means you got better coverage of supply, said Miles. Wind tends to be stronger in the cold months and solar does better in the warm months, he said.